Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Il health, 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea
Xinhua, Yao Dawei, File/AP
Kim Jong Il

Kim Jong Il Still Hospitalized But Capable, Says Intelligence

October 28, 2008 10:49 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The most recent reports about North Korea’s ailing leader Kim Jong Il suggest that he’s very sick, but possibly still making decisions.

Kim Jong Il Sick But Functioning, Say Reports

International intelligence indicates that the North Korean leader is in the hospital but he is probably still actively ruling the country, said Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday.

“I think intelligence of various nations shares the understanding that while his health is not good, it is unlikely that he can’t make any decisions, and that there will be other moves,” he told a parliament panel, according to Reuters.

Aso would not reveal the source of his intelligence, saying, “In this era, we get information from many sectors,” Agence France-Presse reports.

On Monday, Japan’s Fuji Television showed video of a French brain surgeon who said that Kim’s eldest son had sought his services.

Last week, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak made similar remarks as Aso when he said that Kim still held power in his country, according to Reuters.

Earlier in October, North Korean media released photos of Kim appearing in public for the first time in almost two months. But analysts claimed that the photos were old, raising more questions about the leader’s condition.

Background: Absence leads to reports of stroke

North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il did not attend festivities marking the 60th anniversary of the country’s declaration as an independent state Sept. 9. Kim Yong-Nam, the country’s second-in command, took his place, directing the televised military parades venerating the state and the absent leader.

Kim’s absence led to wild speculation about his health, including rumors that he had died. Reports suggested that Kim suffered either a stroke or cerebral hemorrage a few weeks before, according to the International Herald Tribune. South Korean media reported that foreign doctors performed brain surgery on Kim after he collapsed on Aug. 15. Kim, who is in his late 60s, has chronic diabetes and heart disease.
But North Korean authorities were quick to deny that Kim has had any grave health problems. The International Herald Tribune cited Kyodo News Agency quoting a senior North Korean diplomat as saying, “We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot.”

The tight-lipped nature of state media and Kim’s absence have reignited conspiracy theories as to who is actually running North Korea. North Korea expert Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor at Tokyo’s Waseda University, told Asia Times on Sept. 10, “chances are high that Kim has already died,” saying the leader passed sometime during autumn 2003 and four body doubles have been governing in his place. Other analysts surmised that Kim Jong Il was but a figurehead to the outside world while someone else held the real power.

According to reports, Kim has not named a successor, leaving experts to speculate on the country’s possible fates—including military takeover and even civil war—in the event of Kim’s death. In contrast, Kim was tapped to succeed to his father, Kim Il Sung, more than a decade before taking power.

Key Player: Kim Jong Il

There are conflicting reports as to the North Korean leader’s date and place of birth. A state-endorsed biography of the “Dear Leader,” writes that Kim Jong Il was born on Feb. 16, 1942, on Mt. Packtul in Korea. However, Western researchers put his date of birth as 1941 and the place of birth as somewhere near Khabarovsk, Siberia. Kim joined the Korean Worker’s Party in 1961 and was chosen as the successor to his father, “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, in the early 1980s. Kim Jong Il became North Korea’s leader in 1998, four years after his father’s death. His official title is chairman of the National Defense Commission.

Opinion & Analysis: What will happen to North Korea after Kim Jong Il?

According to intelligence sources, Kim Jong Il has not been preparing any of his three sons to take the helm after his death. Due to the subsequent perceived weakness of the likely heirs to the country’s top office, “American officials tend to gravitate toward theories that a military committee might take over the country,” writes the International Herald Tribune.

A military putsch would mark destabilization unwanted by North Korea’s neighbors as much as Western observers, however. Analysts from British consultancy Control Risks Group told Time magazine that “the regime’s brutal authoritarianism may be repugnant, but its unraveling would raise questions the North’s neighbors would much rather postpone.”

A civil war would aggravate North Korea’s already dire famine and weaken infrastructure, as well as possibly sending masses of refugees into South Korea and China. An outcome Beijing would find particularly dire would be a war in which American forces would have to intercede to watch over North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

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