By Suresh Somu
Jakarta, Indonesia. 09 May 2020. North Korean rebel supremo Kim Jong-un is a much wanted man in the sense the global focus is on him and anything he does or doesn’t makes big bold headlines.
News splashed all over the world about his so-called disappearance. Many were led to think Kim’s health has seriously deteriorated owing to heart surgery, while rumours continued to latch onto “brain dead”, vegetative state” even demise after the operation has gone south. The credibility of such increases especially when it comes from North Korea defectors.
Multiple theories there were many. A number attributed to Covid-19 pandemic that could have made Mr Kim self-quarantine near a coastal leadership compound in Wonsan according to satellite imagery released by the website 38 North.
That cemented the claim when report revealed China sent a team including doctors and senior diplomats to advice its neighbour and long-time ally. Kim’s last appearance publicly was on April 11. So, who had the last laugh? Or who continue to be tickled and laughing?
These overly hype news were squashed when Kim’s re-emergence in public ended weeks of speculation about his whereabouts as he walked around a fertilizer factory on May 1.
These whirlpool of events brings a series of notion. And that is “what if?” What if these news comes true one day? We know Kim is not pink of health owing to his lifestyle.
Good riddance? Perhaps, but there’s a bigger picture. Assume China try to assert control over North Korea. A stronger grasp on North Korea developments and making in-roads through prevention of government collapse and humanitarian crisis. Why not?
China has been providing the economic lifeline to North Korea. It has been the largest trading partner for the nuclear arsenal nation. So exerting political control through economic power is one route for China.
Kim’s apparent medical crisis offers China yet another first real opportunity to strengthen its hand over Pyongyang. Above all, Kim’s meetings with Xi more than one occasion rior to his path breaking summit with US President Donald Trump clearly say something too.
If China continues to trend well and good, it could well place US in a disadvantaged position. A bold and crafty move which allows to reshape the regional balance of power; perhaps even a strategic move by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The fact that Trump is unconcerned with shorter-range ballistic missile tests and other provocative actions in the Korean peninsula region places strain between the US and South Korea ties. On top, the burden of sharing agreement for keeping US forces in South Korea is still outstanding.
Trump will only be deterred if there is intercontinental ballistic missile or nuclear test (ICMB). To him, that is crossing the red line. Anything else, is a clear blind eye which gives the rather rebellious Mr Kim an upper hand. So one could surmise the US allies’ relationship is not looking bleak.
How about the relationship between South Korea and Japan? Between them, the on-going fighting over trade when the announcement from Japan to remove South Korea as favoured trade partner status and imposing export controls made Koreans frown.
So tit-for-tat, the Korean decided to end the country’s intelligence-sharing pact which changed its position at the later stage. US has not intervened and such disarray and lack of leadership from the US does not place “Make America Great Again” in the pole position, certainly not in the eyes of its allies.
The US needs a robust plan in place to counter China’s growing influence and possible moves into North Korea. Claiming to maintain a great relationship with the supremo, isn’t enough; stalled talks doesn’t gel well with the current scheme of things. As negotiations broke down in 2019, North Korea began a series of regular, short-range missile and artillery tests.
Analysts say the missile tests may be designed to keep up pressure on the Americans or is simply trying to produce more advanced weapons. Either way, it is not looking rosy.
Time for US to wake up, perhaps? It has to undertake proactive steps. It has to work closely with allies, put its act together and work collectively. Otherwise, it will only create further damage, harm than good with on-going disputes among themselves, causing further rift.
Quite clearly, while the US says that it is watching it closely, Kim too, could be doing the same. If the US is any close of being serious in maintaining its global power, then it has to walk the talk.
Kim has shown strength and resolute, both to his people and to the world. His way of showing strength is continuance of missile launches. He makes sure that he keeps the elite and military in line.
Looking at past reports that may be greatly exaggerated to point towards death or permanent incapacity generated as a result of Kim’s mysterious three-week absence, it clearly exhibits one thing.
His disappearance brings equal or even more quivers globally. If that’s what he wanted to achieve, kudos! But let’s not take Kim’s recent action with a pint of salt.
For two-cent worth, Kim is indeed a much wanted man in the sense that the world focus continues to be on him, simply because anything he does or doesn’t make refreshing “rocketman” headlines.