A sick stateWe keep getting reports that Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s leader, is seriously ill. According to these reports, Kim might have suffered a stroke weeks ago and foreign doctors have been summoned.
Other observers have heard similar stories about the possible illnesses afflicting Kim, and this is not something new. There have been rumors in the past about Kim’s failing health only for Kim to emerge on official visits to the military, for instance, quelling talk that he is nearing the end.
There is a possibility that this recent breaking story is just another rumor, but we should no longer expect business as usual in the North.
The country is facing severe external and internal conflicts and even North Korea’s media has admitted that the country is facing a situation so urgent that “other countries would find it very difficult to withstand.”
Regardless of Kim’s health, the South Korean government should prepare itself for a sudden change in the situation north of the 38th parallel. But this doesn’t seem to be the case, unfortunately.
When Goh Kun was acting president of the South, he said he lost sleep because there were no measures in place for a possible emergency on the Korean Peninsula. The Lee Myung-bak administration shouldn’t repeat the same mistake.
North Korea has deteriorated over the past two decades politically and economically. Now, we believe its leader is gravely ill.
The South Korean government’s preparation should go beyond mere prediction. It should make sure that it is in a position to function right after any possible emergency breaks out.
The most urgent matter is the strength of the relations we have with the United States. If China is sucked into a situation that sees the North implode or collapse, we need to be sure where we stand.
At the same time, we shouldn’t neglect improving ties with China, a country that regards North Korea as a satellite.
As South Korea’s economy is around 30 times bigger than the North’s, an emergency in North Korea can seriously damage the South’s finances.
The South Korean government should explain the possible impact of an emergency in North Korea and let people know what they can do to prepare themselves and their families. The issue concerns not only the government but also the survival of the entire Korean Peninsula.