November 29, 2023

North Korea After Kim Jong Il

On Sunday night (Monday morning Pyongyang time), North Korean media announced that an important message would be released shortly. Most believed that it would be something related to the nuclear program, where it had been earlier reported that progress was made on some sort of food-aid-for-nuclear-freeze deal. Yet, as soon as the North Korean broadcast started it was clear what had actually happened. The broadcaster, dressed all in black, spoke in a slow, mournful tone, and it appeared that at any moment she would burst into tears. The Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, was dead.

The death of Kim Jong Il, even with all of his past health problems, came at a rather shocking time. Kim has been more active in recent months than usual – by my count, he had made 48 appearances since October and 156 appearances on the year (compared to 149 in 2010). There were even reports earlier in the year that the pace of the succession was slowing down as his health improved.