Kim Jong-un’s lifeline laid out amid North Korea assassination fears

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North Korea could be gearing-up for a new round of nuclear weapons testing after satellite imagery revealed a submarine armed with ballistic missiles in Sinpo. In recent months, tensions have escalated between Kim Jong-un and the outside world, after the state made a number of hostile actions. During one of the leader’s three absences earlier this year, when it was believed he was dead or “gravely ill”, his sister Kim Yo-jong blasted defectors in South Korea as “human scum” and “mongrel dogs”. Soon after, the verbal attack was followed by the nation blowing-up an inter-Korean communications facility near the border. Many of the aggressive acts committed under the dictator’s rule have been interpreted as a rebellion against sanctions, which worsen poverty within the state. In exchange for lifting US restrictions, President Donald Trump wanted the state to start nuclear disarmament – which they have yet to concede. While previous talks between the two nations concluded with Kim Jong-un handing other information about missile bases, a number of secret stations have been discovered. The continuous threat of the state has led many to wonder why greater intervention or more threatening steps are not made against the regime.

Before talks between North Korea and the US, which promised to reign in the state’s hostility, China was believed to be working behind the scenes to keep both nations onside – but it was claimed that more was needed from them. 

Anna Fifield, the Washington Post’s Beijing reporter, believed that Xi Jinping wanted to give Kim Jong-un “some easy victories” to encourage him to continue economic development and diplomacy. 

She told ‘The Impossible State’ podcast in June last year: “Nobody in Asia wants to see North Korea with nuclear weapons, China included.”

Ms Fifield felt that if North Korea was not willing to “give it all up”, China would encourage them to move away from regular missile tests and to keep “everything under lock and key”.

When asked if it would be easier for China to “take out” Kim Jong-un to eliminate the nuclear threat from a “rogue state” and to pave an easier path to Korean unification – it was deemed too dangerous. 

Victor Cha, from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know. 

“They certainly have problems with the North Korean leader and the nuclear weapons and the bad behaviour but taking out the leadership would create much more instability.

“Unification would potentially mean a United States military ally at the border state of China too, which I don’t think they would take too well.”

Mr Cha added that historically whenever the Korean peninsula is “unstable it works to China’s detriment”, however he felt that they did not do enough to help the state inline. 

Xi Jinping was believed to have “squeezed them enough to get them back to the table” through sanctions – but once North Korea was ready to negotiate he was alleged that they “handed the ball over to the US”.

Mr Cha added: “They are not willing to expend the resources to really try to push for a denuclearisation agreement.

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“That could be incentives in terms of transplanting some of the money they use for trade to some sort of energy compensation or programme for North Korea, or suspension of the entire system.

“Or resources in the sense of truly leveraging their relationship with the regime, if the North does not comply with the deal.”

Mr Cha expressed his hope that China would treat Kim Jong-un as seriously as Taiwan or Tibet and instead of “freeriding” until the “ball ends up in the US court” make greater steps to aid diplomacy. 

Ms Fifield warned that the world should take Kim Jong-un more seriously, rather than “something out of a James Bond film” or as a “madman or irrational”.

She said: “He has managed to defy all of the expectations and kept a grip on this regime – the system should have collapsed many decades ago.

“He’s managed to keep it intact, to stay in control – he couldn’t do that if he was acting irrationally, so the reason they say we should be taking him seriously is because he is a real threat.

“He is a threat on the daily basis to the 25 million people of North Korea who live in this extremely repressive system that has not let up at all under Kim Jong-un. 

“But also he is a threat to the outside world and has shown this astonishing progress to have a credible intercontinental ballistic missile threat to demonstrate hydrogen bomb capability.”

She claimed that many “would have laughed” at North Korea being able to accomplish such military feats but “under Kim Jong-un they have done it”.

Ms Fifield added: “We should be viewing him as somebody who has a seriousness of purpose and not as a cartoon character for sure.”

Mr Cha echoed the comments, when he added that it was “the biggest mistake” to not “take this guy seriously” or see him as “crazy”.

He said: “This is real, it’s serious, he’s clearly demonstrated a threat… to Korea, Japan and the United States, this is not something to joke about or take lightly.”

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