Will China Take Over North Korea?

Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke last month, died in 2003, or is in perfectly good health at this moment, all according to recent reports. We will one day know which one of them is true, but by then it may be too late. Why? The events of the last few days could be setting the stage for China to eventually absorb North Korea.

First, the facts. Yesterday, Kim did not attend the military celebrations in Pyongyang to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  His absence fueled rumors of his poor condition, spread by a senior U.S. intelligence official, that the North Korean suffered a stroke in the last few weeks.  A South Korean official in Beijing was quoted as saying that Mr. Kim collapsed on August 22.  A team of five Chinese doctors have been reported to be attending to him since late last month.

Today, Kim Yong Nam, often described as Pyongyang’s No. 2 leader, said there is “no problem” with his boss’s condition. This follows other denials from high-ranking regime members. “We see such reports as not only worthless, but rather as a conspiracy plot,” said  senior diplomat Song Il Ho, referring to rumors of Kim Jong Il’s poor health.  “Western media have reported falsehood before.”

Many times, in fact. Some analysts argue there is less going on than meets the eye in the DPRK, as the North Koreans like to call their miserable little nation. “The starting point on all this should be that we don’t know diddly about what is going on inside that closed country,” says Brad Glosserman of the Pacific Forum in Honolulu. “Kim has a tendency to drop out of sight when there is a tough decision to make.” All the well-known Korea expert says is true -- Kim Jong Il now faces a series of especially tough decisions about surrendering his nuclear weapons. And, as a general matter, it is hard to find significance in anything the world’s strangest national leader does not do. After all, he is even known for not showing up at celebrations of his own birthday.