Seeing doubles in Dear Leader's no-show
By Kosuke Takahashi
TOKYO - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's apparent no-show on Tuesday at
celebrations to mark the nation's 60th anniversary has prompted intense
speculation among Pyongyang watchers and intelligence communities worldwide.
Experts are straining to figure out the whereabouts of the nation's leader and
exactly what's going on in the world's most reclusive country.
According to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, there have been no North Korean
media reports on the military parade as of 5pm on Tuesday. The Associated Press
also reported that there had been no domestic news coverage of the event by
Tuesday evening . According to the AP, North Korea's state news agency did
carry an exhortation from the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper
calling on the population to remain united around Kim.
North Korea's 60th anniversary comes at a time that international efforts to
end Pyongyang's nuclear quest remain stalled. Former US deputy secretary of
state Richard Armitage on Tuesday said Kim was unlikely to give up nuclear
weapons and was likely to launch a missile again soon, the Japanese and South
Korean media reported. Armitage spoke at an international seminar in Seoul.
In East Asia, a 60th anniversary is highly significant as it signifies the
entering of the traditional sexagenary cycle as a cultural custom. This is why
the absence of the nation's leader adds to speculation that something is
happening to Kim.
A veteran and famous Japanese expert on North Korea has said Kim, 66, died of
diabetes in the autumn of 2003 and his role has been played by four body
doubles, with two being almost perfect look-alikes, and the nation has already
forged collective leadership among top four officials.
Other analysts have said "Dear Leader" Kim might have been shifted from the top
position due to serious sickness, signaling the beginning of his downfall at a
time of unprecedented economic and international political problems. This all
suggests Kim might have been on the sidelines and been kept out of the loop
already, a power shift in the Hermit Kingdom.
"Chances are high that Kim has already died," Toshimitsu Shigemura, a professor
at Waseda University in Tokyo and an expert on Korean Peninsula affairs, said
in an interview with Asia Times Online. "He suffered from diabetes, heart
disease, liver disorder, lung problem and bipolar disorder."
Kim collapsed last month, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Tuesday,
quoting a South Korean official in Beijing.
"We have obtained intelligence that National Defense Commission chairman Kim
Jong-il had collapsed on August 22," the official with the South Korean Embassy
in Beijing was quoted as saying by the Korean newspaper, adding to growing
speculation about the whereabouts of missing Kim, who has not been seen in
public for almost one month. His last outing was on August 14 when he
reportedly inspected a military unit in North Korea.
"That collapsed person should be one of the four doubles," said Shigemura, the
professor at Waseda University, who cites sources from inside North Korea and
from the intelligence services of Japan, South Korea and Washington in his book
titled The True Character of Kim Jong-il published last month.
According to his reliable source, Kim was condemned to a wheelchair as early as
2000 as he fell into the terminal stage of diabetes.
Shigemura claims North Korea has adopted a form of collective executive
leadership led by Kim Yong-nam, the current secretary of the Central Committee,
and Chang Sung-taek, who is the brother-in-law of Kim Jong-il and oversees
responsibility for the police, judiciary, and other areas of internal security
as top official at Workers' Party of Korea, along with two other top officials.
The "collective leadership" is engaged in a fierce internal power struggle,
"I do not buy the view Kim has died already," Lee Young-hwa, the representative
of Rescue the North Korean People! (RENK), a Japan-based citizens' group
supporting North Korean asylum seekers in China since early 1990s, told Asia
Times Online. Lee is also an economics professor and third-generation Korean
resident in Japan. "It has no credibility, as the South Korean intelligence
community has denied it. But Kim might have got the early stage of Alzheimer's
disease already, besides diabetes and heart disease.
"Power is shifting from the Dear Leader to Chang Sung-taek, the brother-in-law
of Kim, and his eldest son Kim Jong-nam, 37, as China backs their reform and
door-opening policies, compared with Kim Jong-il's reclusive polices," Lee
Shigemura disagrees with this view.
"Kim Jong-nam has no achievements in the nation and only China is backing him,"
Shigemura said. "He has no prospects of being the next leader." His illegal
entry into Japan in May, 2001 and arrest by Japanese authorities helped drop
him in the race for successor, he added.
Kosuke Takahashi, a former staff writer at the Asahi Shimbun, is a
freelance correspondent based in Tokyo. He can be contacted at email@example.com.