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.