'In the country, which is ruled by the dictatorial will of the leader, much actually depends on their surroundings'
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is believed to be “gravely ill” after undergoing a medical procedure, according to multiple reports.
South Korean media publication Daily NK reported the news on Tuesday, and CNN said a US official with direct knowledge was monitoring intelligence on the situation.
While reports out of North Korea are notoriously hard to verify, North Korean specialist and senior lecturer at the International College of Management Sydney, Dr Leonid Petrov, said the news comes as no surprise.
“It looks like Kim Jong Un is either sick, or has decided to go for an elective surgery … but his health is not great, it’s obvious from his pictures,” he told 3AW, a Melbourne-based talkback radio station.
Kim, who is believed to be 35-years-old, has two or three young children, with the oldest said to be a boy aged about 10.
He also has an older brother, Kim Jong Chol, and a younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, who has recently ascended to become the second most important figure in the North Korean regime.
But it is unclear who will rule North Korea if Kim is incapacitated or dies.
“In the country, which is ruled by the dictatorial will of the leader, much actually depends on their surroundings,” Dr Petrov said.
“That’s why purges are constantly happening in North Korea, even Kim’s late uncle was purged.
“It’s a constant Game of Thrones type of activity.”
The leader’s families are not the only ones in power in the country, with the Korean Workers’ Party and the Korean Peoples’ Army, as well as the secret police, also playing key roles in the dictatorship.
Petrov said “much will depend on the balance of power” between those parties when it comes to determining a new leader.
Bloomberg names some possible successors of Kim:
Kim Yo Jong, sister
Part royal representative, part personal assistant, Kim Yo Jong has emerged as one of her older brother’s closest aides.
Earlier this month, she was reinstated as an alternate Politburo member of the ruling Workers Party of Korea. As such, she’s the only other member of the Kim family with anything approaching real power in the regime.
Although she became the first member of the ruling family to visit Seoul and accompanied Kim in his summits with US President Donald Trump and China’s Xi Jinping, she’s also performed mundane tasks, such as helping the leader extinguish a cigarette during a train stop in China.
Whether North Korea’s patriarchal elite will support a relatively young woman as the country’s next “supreme leader” is unclear.
Kim Jong Un’s son
South Korean intelligence said Kim married Ri Sol Ju, a former singer, in 2009 and is thought to have three children.
The children have yet to be officially mentioned in state media and the oldest is believed to be a son born in 2010, according to South Korea’s DongA Ilbo newspaper.
That would likely require any of the children to rule under some form of regent until they come of age.
Kim Jong Chol, brother
Kim Jong Chol, Kim’s only surviving brother, would be another longshot, since he has shown more interest in guitars than politics.
Thae Yong Ho, the former No 2 at North Korea’s embassy in London who defected to South Korea, once said Kim’s elder brother “doesn’t own any official title” adding he’s “just a really talented guitarist.”
Kim Han Sol, nephew
Kim Han Sol, born in 1995, may have become heir-apparent himself if his father, Kim Jong Nam, hadn’t fallen out with Kim Jong Il and gone into exile in the Chinese gambling hub of Macau.
Kim Jong Nam was the North Korean leader’s older half-brother and his most serious rival, frequenting casinos and occasionally criticizing his younger sibling’s regime.
Any hopes that Kim Han Sol might have had of returning to Pyongyang were dashed in 2017, when his father was murdered at the Kuala Lumpur airport by two women who smeared VX nerve agent on his face.
Chinese police later arrested several North Koreans dispatched to Beijing on suspicion of plotting to kill Kim Han Sol, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported at the time. His whereabouts remain unknown.