NEW DELHI: The only certainty about North Korea is that there is no certainty. But while the jury’s still out over whether Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un is in a coma or even dead, Vishnu Prakash, former Indian ambassador to South Korea tells Ashwin Ahmad that this time Kim’s condition may be more serious. Why? Because he has given over power and control to his sister Kim Yo Jong something that is unheard of for a North Korean leader to do. While Prakash does believe that the news based on a statement by a former South Korean diplomat, is a hit and miss affair – ‘they get it right half the time’ –he believes there is enough evidence to suggest that even if Kim is not unwell, he has decided to take a step back and cede authority to his sister. The reason is simple – she poses no threat to him. As a woman she will struggle to stamp her authority in North Korea and South Korea which are very patriarchal societies. Secondly, she is relatively young, a big handicap in a society that values age. Kim who too was young when he took power had to struggle for years to stamp his authority. In that sense, she can lighten his load while being no threat.
If however, Kim is ailing and perhaps even close to death, there are big worries for North Korea and the immediate neighbourhood. Prakash predicts Kim Yo Jong will become even more hawkish – she has already shown signs of this in the past – to ensure her survival. Increased activity by the big powers, US and China cannot be ruled out. China will be most worried as North Korea is a buffer state for them and US boots in North Korea is a possibility that they would dread. China could invade North Korea to prevent this and from there Prakash believes, anything can happen. What is certain as far as North Korea is concerned is economic hardship. North Korea has been hit hard by sanctions and falling trade with its ‘saviour’ China as the border has been sealed. Recently, a North Korean leader admitted to economic hardship, a sure sign that whether Kim is alive or dead, the problems are beginning to mount for the world’s most secretive nation.