Kim Jong-il (KIM)’s death was announced by the state media on 19 December 2011, with very brief and doubtful details on the time, place and cause of death. To unlock the truth, the foremost issue is to examine the creditability of North Korea’s state media.
How creditable are the materials from Korean Central News Agency?
The website of the state media, Korean Central News Agency, provides updates on KIM’s daily schedules and other important news of North Korea, alongside with photos and videos. People usually doubt if those materials are fabricated for the purpose of KIM’s propaganda.
In order to verify the truthfulness of those photos, as well as the said time and place of happenings, the author checked each any every photo (about KIM’s domestic visits) taken after he came back from Russia and Northeast China on 27 August 2011.
The result is: the author finds no discrepancies between the local weather condition as shown in the photos and the weather figures retrieved from the US meteorology website Wunderground.com. For example:
On 26 November 2011 KIM is said to be visiting People’s Army Air Force Unit 1016. According to Wunderground.com, on that day there is rainfall in most part of North Korea, including Pyongyang. The author checked the relevant photos and one of them shows that the camera lens is tinted with a few raindrop marks.^
On 4 November 2011 employees from Huichon Machinery Factory are said to be visiting Mangyongdae, birthplace of Kim Il-sung. Wunderground.com revealed that it is a rainy day in Pyongyang, where Mangyongdae is situated. The author checked and found photos with slippery floor.^
On 10 December 2011 KIM is said to be visiting the Hamhung city in South Hamgyong province. From the photos we can see that it is a sunny day while the ground and tree are covered with snow. What are the weather figures from Wunderground.com? 10 December is a sunny day, while 8 and 9 December are snowy days at Hamhung city.^
They match. It may indicate that the materials from North Korea’s state media are actually quite accurate in terms of the date and place of happenings. However, we are not sure if those visiting places are just “showrooms”, and if KIM is really giving insightful guidance as the state media describes.
Time, place and cause of death
On 19 December 2011, Korean Central News Agency posted the following press release:
…2011년12월17일 달리는 야전렬차안에서 중증급성심근경색이 발생되고 심한 심장성쇼크가 합병되였다.발병즉시 모든 구급치료대책을 세웠으나 주체100(2011)년12월17일8시30분에 서거하시였다…
…On 17 December 2011 Kim Jong-il suffered from a combination of severe acute myocardial infarction and serious heart shock on a running local train. Every possible first-aid measure was taken immediately but he passed away at 8:30am on 17 December ….
In the subsequent press releases Korean Central News Agency mentions that the local train is “ordinary” (수수한) and “people-line” (인민행). But sources have already suggested that the KIM’s train(s) is actually specially designed and highly secured. It just looks ordinary and people-line from outside, for the purpose of defying spies and satellites.
Every possible first-aid measure?
Jo Myeong-seon (조명선), a military general acquainted with Kim Il-sung, died as a result of cerebral hemorrhage in July 1994. It was reported that due to Jo’s senior position, the doctor-in-charge was afraid to take aggressive surgical treatment which may save him. The same may happen on KIM.
Early in the morning?
The author checked the photos published by Korean Central News Agency and found something which hints on whether KIM is an early bird.
In the album with photos taken on 4 December, we can see that KIM was accompanied by his younger sister, his son and other officials to visit Kaeson Youth Park. They took a group photo near a pirate-boat-like structure, and the distant Pyongyang TV Tower was behind them. According to the Google Map, Pyongyang TV Tower is located at the northeast of that pirate-boat-like structure. As observed in the photo, people’s shadows are eastward-casting and long, which indicates that they were visiting the park in the evening.
Pyongyang TV Tower and the pirate-boat-like structure in Kaeson Youth Park (Google Map)
The author checked other albums and found a number of long-shadow photos (though not sure of the casting direction). This may suggest that KIM’s visits were usually done in the evening, which is consistent with the saying that he is a late starter. Therefore, dying outdoor at 8:30am may not be a truth.
During the course of a field visit?
As explained above, it appears that materials from North Korea’s state media are quite accurate in terms of the date and place of happenings. The author checked KIM’s schedule on his last 110 days (after he came back from Russia/ Northeast China visits on 27 August 2011), as reported by Korean Central News Agency. The following figures are computed:
– 19 days were spent on field visits;
– 11 days were spent on military visits (all start after 19 Oct);
– On a weekly average, 1.9 days were spent on either field visits or military visits.
In addition, among the 18 identifiable field visit destinations, eight are located within Pyongyang, and ten are located outside Pyongyang. Some field visits were even conducted on Sunday. It shows that KIM is actually quite enjoy/ busy travelling within the state. He could be dying during the course of a field visit.
18 identifiable field visit destinations made by KIM after 27 August 2011
An interesting observation is that the destinations of KIM’s field visit is quite diverse, ranging from agricultural (e.g. pig, duck and terrapin farm), industrial (e.g. dam, mine and smelting plant) to commercial areas (e.g. nursery, meat and pancake shop).
Korean Central News Agency also details what KIM was doing on 17 December in the previous years:
17 Dec 2010: N/A. It was the aftermath of North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyong Island, South Korea.
17 Dec 2009: Visiting Chongjin University of Mining and Metallurgy, as well as Kim Chaek Iron and Steel Complex.
17 Dec 2008: Visiting different units in Kanggye City.
17 Dec 2007: Visiting People’s Army Unit 1971.
Sustainability of Kim regime
At the time of this article Kim Jong-un, KIM’s third son, has been selected as the military head, and presumably the head of the state. Can he gain the legitimacy to rule as KIM did? There are a number of factors to look into:
Kim Il-sung Effect
As we know the father of KIM, Kim Il-sung, is a heroic figure in North Korea. Partly because he and his army expelled the Japanese from Korea peninsula; partly because he is the founder of the new Korea; and partly because of the state propaganda. He died in 1994 and he is still highly worshipped in North Korea:
– many people are still wearing the Kim Il-sung badge;
– a new calendar system beginning in 1912 (Kim Il-sung’s year of birth);
– 15 April (Kim Il-sung’s birthday) is a public holiday
– Kim Il-sung’s figure on coins and paper currency
As a result, the Kim regime originated from Kim Il-sung gains much recognition among the people. This helps the descendants of Kim Il-sung, including KIM and Kim Jong-un, to gain the legitimacy to rule in the undemocratic country.
The desire to be united, and to be strong and prosperous
Basically, there is only one ethnic group in Korea, which is the Korean. For the North Koreans, the unification of Korean peninsula is of a very high priority. At the same time, they want to build a strong and prosperous nation. This explains why Kim regime always prepares militarily to achieve unification, and it also promises that North Korea would be a strong and prosperous nation by 2012.
Undertaking economic reform may bring massive economic benefits to the country. However, it has to be done at a right time with the support from stakeholders. Otherwise, it would lead to political conflicts and further threaten the goal of unification.
Implication on Kim Jong-un
As the grandson of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-un gains a comparative advantage in seizing the power. However, he still needs to be very careful. In an ideological country like North Korea, rivals can make good use of “mistake” and impose ideological accusation. Mistake could include:
– wearing jeans, which is prohibited in the country
– using Iphone or Galaxy
– any friendly gesture to South Korea, Japan or US
– overfriendly gesture to China or Russia
On the first day of 2012 the state media announced that North Korea has ruled out any policy changes. This announcement partly serves to safeguard Kim Jong-un’s rule by preventing any accusation of ideological change.