Extra! Korea

July 20, 2009

Two of Kim Jong-il’s yachts have been confiscated

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 8:39 am

The international trade embargo might actually affect Kim Jong-il himself. Two of his yachts have been confiscated by Italian police. (The Dong-a Ilbo also has this story.)

In other news, The Hole brings us another story of confiscated evidence, evidence that I demand to see.

July 13, 2009

Does Kim Jong-il have a 5.5% chance of surviving until 2014? The South Park Rule

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 7:10 am

According to a recent Reuters article, Kim Jong-il may be in big trouble.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, 67, has life-threatening pancreatic cancer, South Korean broadcaster YTN said on Monday, citing information gathered from Chinese and South Korean intelligence sources.

[ snip ]

The U.S. National Cancer Institute puts the five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer at 5.5 percent.

There’s an Associated Press article on this subject as well.

Pancreatic cancer is usually found in its final stage, and considering Kim’s age, he is expected to live no more than five years, the report said.

I’m going to go by The South Park Rule: Dictators who are parodied by Trey Parker and Matt Stone have their days numbered.

–> Saddam Hussein. Parodied in “South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.” Dead.

–> Kim Jong-il. Parodied in “Team America: World Police.” Soon to be dead.

–> Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not parodied by Parker and Stone. We’ll be seeing his ugly mug for years to come.

–> Fidel Castro. Not parodied by Parker and Stone. Bugger just won’t die.

June 27, 2009

I give up trying to guess about North Korean succession

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 1:49 am

Not too long ago, I posted about how there might, finally, be some concrete evidence that Kim Jong-il’s third and youngest son, Jong-un, might be being groomed to be his heir. Now I might have to eat crow. I wrote:

The Rodong Sinmun, the North’s main newspaper published by the Workers’ Party, on Tuesday quoted Kim [Jong-il] as recently saying, “A revolutionary tradition created by our founding leader (Kim Il-sung) is the strong root of our party and its revolution. Our revolution has been successful because the blood of juche (self-reliance) has been inherited by successive generations.” (emphasis mine)

But now:

The North Korean press frequently used terms such as “bloodline to revolutionary ancestors,” “successor to the revolution,” or “let’s succeed to the cause of juche (self-reliance) revolution.” But experts point out that it is hard to link these phrases specifically to Kim Jong-un, given that they were used in the past too.

Brilliant Comrade“? Never heard of him.

In a telephone conversation with a North Korean refugee, a driver for a senior party official in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province said he had never heard the name Kim Jong-un before, and few North Koreans know about him. A former soldier who recently fled North Korea said, “Neither Kim Jong-un nor the succession have ever been mentioned in lectures around military camps.”

[ snip ]

A former North Korean historian who studied the history of the North Korean revolution said, “It was beyond imagination how much effort North Korea made to establish the Kim Jong-il succession.” If Kim Jong-un becomes the heir apparent and power is to be handed down to a third generation of the Kim family, a new idol worship, a mixture of “bloodline” and the image of the “warrior of the leader,” would have been created, he said, but so far there has been no propaganda to that effect.

I give up.

June 24, 2009

(Updated) Evidence of North Korean succession plans?

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 1:56 am

In the past several days, the Chosun Ilbo and Korea Times have reported that Kim Jong-il’s third and youngest son, Jong-un, had been appointed to a high-level position and that he may even be acting as a kind of surrogate leader for his ailing father. However, Andrei Lankov has shown us that we should take all of this news with a grain of salt. These reports seem to be coming mainly out of Japanese newspapers, and the Japanese have been wrong about these kinds of things in the recent past.

However, in a speech by Kim Jong-il, there might be, finally, concrete evidence of plans to designate his son as his heir.

The Rodong Sinmun, the North’s main newspaper published by the Workers’ Party, on Tuesday quoted Kim [Jong-il] as recently saying, “A revolutionary tradition created by our founding leader (Kim Il-sung) is the strong root of our party and its revolution. Our revolution has been successful because the blood of juche (self-reliance) has been inherited by successive generations.” (emphasis mine)

The paper said Kim made the remark during his tour of one of the communist North’s revolutionary sites in northern part of the country.

If Kim Jong-il is using the words that I emphasized literally, then that might rule out people like Jang Song-taek and General Oh, who are about the same age as he.


The Dong-a Ilbo and Korea Times have news about how Kim Jong-il has supposedly put Jong-un in charge of North Korea’s secret police. Since the secret police investigate and punish treason in all organizations, including the military, this is seen as an ideal position from which to root out and quash any opposition to Jong-un’s eventual succession.

June 10, 2009

Did Kim Jong-il collapse again in early May?

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 9:03 am

Some reports say that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il collapsed again in early May, which may have been the reason for bringing forward the nuclear test and haste to ensure the succession, AERA said. The weekly quoted intelligence officials as saying Kim is now too frail to work even for an hour a day.


A blogger seems to believe that Kim Jong-il might be around for a long time, citing the example of Kirk Douglas as someone who can remain alive and sort-of-well long after having a stroke. I would disagree. Kirk Douglas has always taken very good care of himself. (Check out his bodybuilder’s physique in the movie Spartacus.) All of those years of keeping himself in good health were a long-term investment that ultimately paid dividends. On the other hand, Kim Jong-il is a pot-bellied diabetic who eats live seafood and drinks cognac and other kinds of hard liquor until he passes out in the wee hours of the morning. Someone like that can’t make the same kind of long-term recovery from a stroke that Kirk Douglas did.

And here’s some proof that humanitarian aid goes directly to North Korea’s military.

“During the 10 years of the left-leaning Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, nearly 1 trillion yen (approximately W13 trillion) including investment from civilian enterprises went to North Korea,” the weekly said. “Since the Lee Myung-bak administration’s inauguration, South Korea has become tight with money, and this has dealt a severe blow to the North Korean military.”

Hard copy of telegram of succession plans was never seen by intelligence

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 8:34 am

It looks like Andrei Lankov was right (not that I ever doubted him). The telegram that described Kim Jong-il’s succession plans was never seen first-hand by any intelligence agents. The information was only obtained through accounts by eyewitnesses.

Speaking of Kim Jong-un, here’s an article that sheds some light on this mysterious figure. Apparently, he’s a big fan of boxing and basketball, and was home-schooled* before going to study in Switzerland.

And he really does look like his father (from a Japanese TV station, via the Chosun Ilbo).

* Which could account for why so little is known about him, even by people like Hwang Jang-yup.


Oops. That picture wasn’t of Kim Jong-un, as Japan’s Asahi TV had reported, but of a South Korean man who uploaded his photo to a community site dedicated to shamanism. He wanted to point out how similar his face is to Kim Jong-il’s. Why? I’m not sure. Koreans are big fans of face reading, and maybe he or others thought that having a similar face to Kim Jong-il’s meant that he was similar in other ways, such as personality. Why he would want to have characteristics similar to those of a ruthless dictator, I can’t fathom.

June 6, 2009

Kim Jong-un: Is he or isn’t he the boss-to-be?

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 2:02 pm

Andrei Lankov, an expert on Korea, has written an article that casts doubt upon the notion that preparations for the succession Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, are already underway.

If these reports are to be believed, Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Jong-un, has been secretly anointed as a successor to his father, and now full-scale preparations for a dynastic transfer of power have began. These reports are based on a secret telegram, which was allegedly sent from Pyongyang to the North Korean overseas missions.

This telegram was cited by National Intelligence Service officers who briefed the National Assembly’s Intelligence Committee last Monday.

What does it all mean? Before we start answering this question, an important caveat is necessary: reports about Jong-un’s promotion are based on the thinnest of possible evidence. It is not known for sure what was said during the Monday briefing. This was a confidential meeting. The telegram itself (if it exists, of course) might have been misinterpreted or even forged. In other words, while the general public has come to see succession as a hard fact, it is not the case yet.

And even if preparations have begun, Jong-un has a long, uphill journey ahead of him.

However, if we consider what is known or believed to be known, Jong-un seems to be a very unlikely candidate for the job.

To start with, he is very young. Born in 1984, Kim Jong-un is only 25 years old. In a country where age and seniority are very important, this is major handicap for an aspiring leader. His mother died few years ago, so he cannot rely on her and her clan for advice and support.

To complicate things further, Jong-un has been overseas for a long time. Since the late 1980s, the scions of the North Korean aristocracy are often educated in the West, with Switzerland being a preferable choice.

Reputedly, Jong-un spent a few years in Bern, attending an international school there. This means that the new heir designate might have good knowledge of the outside world, but poor understanding of the country he is expected to run. Nothing is known about his administrative exploits, and even if he does have some job (reputedly, in the National Defense Commission), he has not had enough time to acquire sufficient experience.

Mr. Lankov adds that we should know for sure in the near future, by the end of this year, by his estimation.

An Appointment should be accompanied by a long and very public campaign where the future successor will be extolled as another “genius of leadership” and “guiding star of the 21 century”.

Without such a campaign, no appointment can become a fact of real politics. So far, no signs of such a campaign have appeared. The North Korean media remains completely silent on the issue.

Therefore, we cannot rule out that the entire story of “Jong-un’s appointment” might eventually become a non-event, a curious case of journalistic hype based on the misinterpreted or faked evidence. We will know for sure pretty soon, though. If by the end of this year North Korean media starts extolling some (probably unnamed and enigmatic) rising political star, it will mean that the reports about coming succession are correct. If newspapers remain silent for a long time, the entire Jong-un’s appointment story should be discarded.

And in the Washington Times, Andrew Salmon has an article in which some experts on Korea think that Jong-un has been anointed, and some don’t. (Hat Tip to One Free Korea)


A former U.S. diplomat who asked not to be named because he still deals with North Korea told The Washington Times the succession process has begun.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean that [Kim Jong-un] has been ‘named,’ only that the North Koreans have begun to build the necessary ‘myths’ that will be required to foster loyalty, build legitimacy and establish his credibility and credentials as a future leader,” the former diplomat said.

[ snip ]

Kim Tae-woo of the Korea Institute of Defense Analysis said he had “heard many things about Kim Jong-un but nothing official. Senior North Koreans know that if they try a succession prematurely, the system could collapse.”


“The Pyongyang regime places a lot of value on the credibility of its media and propaganda apparatus. This is why they admit that they had a famine in the 1990s, and why they now admit that South Korea is richer than North Korea,” said Brian Myers, a specialist on North Korean propaganda at Dongseo University. “What would they have to gain from keeping the succession secret? They just don’t hide information like this. Kim Jong-il started to be groomed from the early 1970s.”

Maybe yes, maybe no:

Seoul-based analyst Michael Breen, the author of a biography of Kim Jong-il, said that the South Koreans could be jumping the gun. But he also warned against expecting any official announcement from Pyongyang.

“The North Koreans are not just going to come out and say, ‘Here is the new leader,’ or people would say, ‘Well I accepted the king, then I accepted the prince, now do I accept the son of prince?’ That would show they are a feudal monarchy.”

Everyone seems to agree that if Kim Jong-il were to die soon* Jong-un would, because of his youth and inexperience in a country that places a premium on age, probably become somebody’s puppet. If there’s a power struggle, all three of Kim Jong-il’s sons might be used by various factions. However, Jong-nam seems uninterested in the job and to have eliminated himself. Jong-chol is, by some reports, effeminate. North Korea’s second-in-command, Jang Song-taek,** seems to be preparing for a regent role with Jong-un, and with Jong-un reportedly to have a ruthlessness similar to his father’s, then they would seem to be the faction most likely to come out on top. If not, then expect him to have an untimely “accident” shortly after his father passes away.

* In all likelihood he will be dead in four-and-a-half years or less. His recent photos seem to confirm this.

** Except perhaps for General Oh.

June 5, 2009

A Short History of Kim Jong-il’s Purges

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 3:52 am

The Dong-ah Ilbo has a condensed history of the purges that Kim Jong-il executed in order to attain, and keep, absolute power. His list of victims include his step-brothers, their mother (his step-mother), and his uncle.

June 3, 2009

Kim Jong-il’s successor eager to learn English, may be more difficult to negociate with than his father

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 2:01 am

Kim Jong-il’s apparent chosen successor, this third and youngest son, Jong-un, is reportedly eager to learn English. He is also more competitive than his brother Jong-chol, and may be even more difficult to negociate with than his father.

June 2, 2009

Kim Jong-il names 3rd son, Jong-un, as successor

Filed under: Kim Jong-il, North Korea — extrakorea @ 4:52 am

Kim Jong-il has apparently named as his successor his third and youngest son, Jong-un.

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