Kim Jong Il dies aged 70
Little is likely in North Korean after the death of its leader Kim Jong Il. Daniel Flitton reports.
Kim Jong-il, the second-generation North Korean dictator who defied global condemnation to build nuclear weapons while his people starved, has died at the age of 69, Yonhap News reported.
The South Korean military has been put on emergency alert with their communist neighbour now set to follow Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong-un, believed to be 27.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (R) looks at his youngest son Kim Jong-un as they watched a parade last year. Photo: Reuters
The news of the death of “Dear Leader” was delivered by a weeping announcer in a broadcast at noon local time, Yonhap reported, citing North Korea’s official media.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the leader ”passed away from a great mental and physical strain” at 8.30am on Saturday (1030 AEDT Saturday), while on a train for one of his ”field guidance” tours.
Kim is believed to have suffered a stroke in August 2008 and may have also had pancreatic cancer, according to South Korean news reports. KCNA said Kim died of a ”severe myocardial infarction along with a heart attack”. It said an autopsy was performed on Sunday.
Dear Leader … Kim Jong-il Photo: Reuters
His funeral will be held on December 28 in Pyongyang but no foreign delegations will be invited, KCNA said. A period of national mourning was declared from December 17 to 29.
The news came as North Korea prepared for a hereditary succession. Kim Jong-il inherited power after his father, revered North Korean founder Kim Il-sung, died in 1994.
In September 2010, Kim Jong-il declared his third son, Kim Jong-un, as his successor, putting him in high-ranking posts.
Flashback … North Korean leader Kim Jong Il acknowledging applause from soldiers as he inspects the Korean People’s Army Unit.
South Korea’s military has been put on emergency alert following Kim’s death, the Yonhap news agency reported, adding that South Korea’s presidential Blue House had called an emergency National Security Council meeting.
Kim was a chain-smoking recluse who ruled for 17 years after coming to power in July 1994 and resisted opening up to the outside world in order to protect his regime.
Flashback … Pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his son Kim Jong-un burnt during anti-North Korea rally in Seoul. Photo: Reuters
He was born, according to his official biographers, in a mountain cabin in North Korea in February 1942, an occasion marked by a double rainbow and a bright star.
But other records said he was actually born in Siberia in 1941, the BBC reported. His father had been exiled to Siberia.
He was believed to be a fan of Hollywood movies and reportedly had a library of 20,000 films, the BBC said.
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The life and times of Kim Jong Il.
Kim Jong-Il on his luxury yacht soon after the death of his father. Photo: Kyodo
Other official reports about Kim included claims that he had shot 11 holes-in-one the first time he picked up a golf club, that he could alter the weather just using his mind and that he had started walking at three-weeks-old and talking at eight weeks, London’s Daily Telegraph reported.
Kim’s official biography said that in elementary school he showed his revolutionary spirit by leading marches to battlefields where Korean rebels fought against Japanese occupiers of the peninsula.
By the time he was in middle school he had shown himself to be an exemplary factory worker who could repair trucks and electric motors, the biography claimed.
He went to Kim Il-sung University where he studied the great works of communist thinkers as well as his father’s revolutionary theory, in a systematic way, state propaganda said.
North Korea analysts said however, Kim lived a life of privilege in the capital, Pyongyang, when his family returned to the divided peninsula in 1945.
The Soviets later installed Kim Il-sung as the new leader of North Korea and the family lived in a Pyongyang mansion formerly occupied by a Japanese officer.
Kim Jong Il’s younger brother mysteriously drowned in a pool at the residence in 1947.
Many of his younger years would have been spent in China receiving an education, analysts said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Photo: Reuters >>
After graduating from college, Kim joined the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea in 1964 and quickly rose through its ranks. By 1973, he was the party’s secretary of organisation and propaganda, and in 1974 his father anointed him as his successor.
Kim gradually increased his power in domestic affairs over the following years and his control within the ruling party greatly increased when the younger Kim was given senior posts in the Politburo and Military Commission in 1980.
Intelligence experts say Kim ordered a 1983 bombing in Myanmar that killed 17 senior South Korean officials and the destruction of a Korean Air jetliner in 1987 that killed 115.
He is also suspected of devising plans to raise cash by kidnapping Japanese, dealing drugs through North Korean embassies and turning the country into a major producer of counterfeit currency.
Kim was known as a womaniser, a drinker and a movie buff, according to those people who had been in close contact with him and later left the country. He was said to enjoy ogling Russian dancing girls, amassing a wine cellar with more than 10,000 bottles and downing massive amounts of lobster and cognac.
North Korea’s propaganda machine painted a much more different picture.
It said Kim piloted jet fighters – even though he travelled by land for his infrequent trips abroad. He penned operas, had a photographic memory and produced movies, it was claimed.
When he first took power in 1994, many analysts thought Kim’s term as North Korea’s leader would be short-lived and powerful elements in the military would rise up to take control of the state.
The already anaemic economy was in a shambles due to the end of the Cold War and the loss of traditional trading partners. Poor harvests and floods led about one million people to die in a famine in the 1990s after he took power.
Despite the tenuous position from which he started, Kim managed to stay in power. He also installed economic reforms that were designed to bring a small and controlled amount of free-market economics into the state-planned economy.
Lampooned by foreign cartoonists and filmmakers for his weight, his zippered jumpsuits, his aviator sunglasses and his bouffant hairdo, Kim cut a more serious figure in his rare dealings with world leaders outside the Communist bloc.
”If there’s no confrontation, there’s no significance to weapons,” he told Madeleine Albright, then US secretary of state, in a 2000 meeting in Pyongyang.
Those words took on greater significance in 2009 as Kim defied threats of United Nations sanctions to test a second nuclear device and a ballistic missile, technically capable of striking Alaska.
The following year North Korea lashed out militarily, prompting stern warnings from the US and South Korea.
An international investigation blamed Kim’s regime for the March 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan that killed 46 sailors.
Eight months later North Korea shelled a South Korean island, killing two soldiers, two civilians and setting homes ablaze.
The act followed reports by an American scientist that the country had made ”stunning” advances to its uranium-enrichment program.
Kim Jong Un: the new leader?
The potential succession of his little-known third son, Kim Jong Un, threatens to trigger a dangerous period for the Korean peninsula, where 1.7 million troops from the two Koreas and the US square off every day.
”Kim Jong Il inherited a genius for playing the weak hand and by keeping the major powers nervous, continuing his father’s tradition of turning Korea’s history of subservience on its head,” said Michael Breen, the Seoul-based author of Kim Jong Il: North Korea’s Dear Leader, a biography.
”We have entered an uncertain moment with North Korea.”
The death of the North Korean leader had created political uncertainty with the succession issue a “big question mark,” according to Sandy Mehta, chief executive officer of Value Investment Principals Ltd, Bloomberg reported.
“We could see a lot of internal turmoil in North Korea,” Mehta, based in Hong Kong, said in e-mailed comments.
“Long-term, with Kim Jong Il out of the picture, we could be looking at a more rational country, which would be positive for the Korean peninsula and the Asian region.”
Professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies told Reuters the “chances that the North Korean military is attempting a coup are very low because North Korea has called itself a nation sharing a common destiny with Kim Jong Un”.
“I think the collective leadership of the party, government and military will go on for a while, because Kim Jong Un is still young.
“Now, South Korea urgently needs to think of who in North Korea it has to deal with. South Korea doesn’t want any instability in North Korea so will probably work to expand its cooperation efforts.”
Chung Young Tae of the Korea Institute of National Unification added that Kim’s death was “somewhat expected”.
“What happens from now is very important. Any prospect for a strong and prosperous country is now gone,” he told Reuters.
“Kim Jong-un is not yet the official heir, but the regime will move in the direction of Kim Jong-un taking centre stage. There is a big possibility that a power struggle may happen. It’s likely the military will support Kim Jong-un.
“Right now there will be control wielded over the people to keep them from descending into chaos in this tumultuous time.”