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.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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