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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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.