Kim Jong-il's death: the world responds

How global leaders have responded to the death of the North Korean dictator at the age of 69.

The Kim is dead, long live the Kim. No sooner had the death of Kim Jong-il ("the dear leader") from a heart attack been announced than his son, Kim Jong-un ("the great successor"), had been anointed as the next leader of the world's only hereditary communist dictatorship. "At the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un, we have to change sadness to strength and courage and overcome today's difficulties," declared the country's authorities.

Kim Jong-il, who, like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein, died at the age of 69 (an age that is to dictators what 27 is to rock stars) will be remembered as yet another tyrant toppled in this year of revolt. "I'd like to think God let Havel and Hitchens pick the third" is the best line currently doing the rounds. (The video below shows the moment North Koreans were told of his death on state television.) Analysts are suggesting that his son's reign could either lead to greater repression or greater reform and emphasising that he may yet fall victim to an internal power struggle.

We'll have more reaction to Kim's death later but, for now, here is how the world's leaders have responded.

Spokesman for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak

President Lee urged the public to go about their usual economic activities without turbulence.

The two leaders (President Lee Myung-bak and President Barack Obama) agreed to closely co-operate and monitor the situation together.

Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry

We were distressed to learn of the unfortunate passing of Comrade Kim Jong-il, the senior-most leader of DPRK [North Korea].

We express our deep sorrow, and extend our most sincere condolences to the people of DPRK.

Comrade Kim Jong-il was a great leader to the people of DPRK, a close friend to the people of China, and he made an important contribution to the development of socialism in DPRK, as well as co-operation and friendship between the two countries.

We believe that people in DPRK can turn their grief into the power to move on, and continue to promote socialism in DPRK in unity.

China and DPRK will continue to work together, to consolidate and develop the traditional friendship between the two parties, the two countries, and the two peoples, as well as contributing positively to peace and stability in the Korean peninsular and in the region.

Jay Carney, White House spokesman

We are closely monitoring reports that Kim Jong-il is dead. The President has been notified, and we are in close touch with our allies in South Korea and Japan.

We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies.

William Hague, British Foreign Secretary

The people of North Korea are in official mourning after the death of Kim Jong Il. We understand this is a difficult time for them.

This could be a turning point for North Korea. We hope that their new leadership will recognise that engagement with the international community offers the best prospect of improving the lives of ordinary North Korean people.

We encourage North Korea to work for peace and security in the region and take the steps necessary to allow the resumption of the Six Party Talks on denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.

Osamu Fujimura, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary

We would hope that this sudden development would not have ill effects on peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

We were given orders to closely exchange information with the concerned nations of US, South Korea and China, and take all measures needed to prepare for the unexpected.

Kevin Rudd, Australian Foreign Minister

Two critical points need to be emphasised at this important time.

The first is that all governments, including the government of North Korea, should at this time be exercising maximum calm and restraint both in terms of what they do and in their diplomatic signalling.

It is at times like this that we cannot afford to have any wrong or ambiguous signalling.

This time also presents an important opportunity to the new North Korean leadership to engage fully with the international community on how to improve their economy in order to properly feed their people and critically on how to deal with the outstanding problem of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

The political succession in North Korea is uncertain. It will be difficult to read in the immediate days ahead precisely what will transpire in terms of the future of the North Korean leadership.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Hilary Benn has been sacked. What happens now?

Jeremy Corbyn has sacked Hilary Benn, effectively challenging his critics to put up or shut up.

Hilary Benn been sacked from the shadow cabinet, following an article in the Observer reporting that the former shadow foreign secretary had told Labour MPs he would challenge Jeremy Corbyn should Corbyn lose the vote of confidence in his leadership that the PLP are due to discuss on Monday.

Anti-Corbyn plotters are convinced that they have the numbers to pass the no confidence motion in Corbyn’s leadership. Passing that motion, however, would not formally trigger either Corbyn’s resignation or a leadership challenge.

The word from Corbyn’s inner circle is that he would remain in post even if he were to lose the confidence vote, and dare his opponents to collect the 50 names they would need to trigger a leadership challenge.

Should that come about, Corbyn’s allies are certain that they would triumph over whoever ran against him. As one senior source said “they lost really badly in September and that’s not gonna change”.

Labour’s rebels are convinced that they have the numbers necessary to trigger a formal challenge to Corbyn’s leadership.

What happens next is fraught as the relevant clause in Labour’s rulebook is unhelpfully vague: 

“ii. Where there is no vacancy, nominations may be sought by potential challengers each year prior to the annual session of party conference. In this case any nomination must be supported by 20 per cent of the PLP. Nominations not attaining this threshold shall be null and void.”

The question that no-one is certain of the answer to: whether the challenged leader would have to seek nominations as well or if they would be on the ballot as by right. My understanding is that the legal advice that Corbyn’s critics have is that Corbyn would not automatically have a place on the ballot. But Jolyon Maugham, a lawyer who writes regularly for the New Statesman, looked over the clause for us and believes that he would.

More important than the legal basis, though, is what the party’s ruling National Executive Committee, which would rule on whether Corbyn had to seek nominations to stand, believes.

Although Corbyn has received the backing of 12 of Labour’s affiliated general secretaries, a well-placed source tells me that they are confident the NEC would rule that Corbyn will need to seek nominations if he is to stand again.

But control over the NEC is finely balanced, and could shift decisively towards Corbyn following this year’s elections to the NEC; one reason why Corbyn’s opponents are keen to strike now.

In that situation, Corbyn’s allies believe they can secure the 50 nominations he would need – the threshold has been raised due to a rule change giving Labour members of the European Parliament the same nominating powers as their cousins in Westminster – thanks to a combination of ideological support for Corbyn and pressure from the party’s grassroots. Senior sources believe that once Corbyn reached shouting distance of 50 nominations, the bulk of the shadow cabinet would quickly fall in line. Another estimates that the “vast majority” of the PLP accept Corbyn requires more time and that the plotting is the result of “a rump” of MPs.

But Corbyn’s critics believe that the European result, which saw Labour voters reject the party line in large numbers, has left Labour MPs with large majorities in the party’s ex-industrial seats more spooked by their voters than by their activists, putting them in the same group as those MPs with small majorities. (The two groups who currently pose the biggest danger to Corbyn are MPs who are old enough to be eligible to collect their pension at or before the next election, and MPs with majorities of under 2,000.) 

Who's right? Much depends on the disposition of Labour's 20 MEPs. Prior to Britain's Brexit vote, they were believed to be the most sensitive to the concerns of the party's activists, as Labour members vote on the order of the party's list, making anti-Corbynites vulnerable. Now all 20 MEPs are out of a job at, or before, the next European election regardless, the question is whether they decide to keep Corbyn off the ballot, or try to curry favour with Corbyn's supporters in the membership prior to making a bid for seats at Westminster. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.