North Korea’s state media reported on Monday that their leader Kim Jong il, died of a heart attack while on a train trip in the country. Kim Jong il came into power in 1994 after his father, Kim II Sung, who founded North Korea with Soviet support following World War II, passed away.
North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950, igniting the Korean War (1950-53), which led to intervention by the United States and has yet to have officially ended with no peace treaty ever being reached.
White House Press Secretary James Carney wrote today in a written statement, ” We remain committed to stability on the Korean peninsula, and to the freedom and security of our allies.”
Kim Jong il was widely admired throughout the majority of North Korea although he was characterized as an eccentric tyrant by most outside of North Korea.
Kim Jong il isolated North Korea from the international community through his failed economic policies, his stubborn reluctance to cooperate with world hunger relief charities, and his aggressive steps towards developing a nuclear program while millions of North Koreans died of starvation in the late 1990’s.
It is estimated that millions of North Koreans starved to death in the 1990’s. North Korea is also believed to have spent roughly one third of their national budget on the military, according to Reuters . However, these figure are difficult to verify due to the secrecy of the North Korean regime and their lack of transparency with internal affairs.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union coupled with China’s openness to a more capitalism based economic system, North Korea found itself increasingly on the margins of Asia both economically and politically speaking compared to their traditional allies of Russia and China.
North Korea’s more prosperous southern neighbor, South Korea, benefited immensely from their close ties with the United States and Western Europe.
In 2002 U.S. President George Bush identified North Korea as one of the 3 countries that was in the “axis of evil.” In 2007 North Korea agreed to disable their nuclear reactor in exchange for food and better relations with the U.S.
North Korea in Transition
It remains unclear who will lead North Korea in the days ahead. Kim Jong il’s third youngest son, Kim Jong Un, who is estimated to be around 30 years old and holds some key senior military posts, was recently nominated to take over power for North Korea.
In reality, there is vey little known about Kim Jong Un, except that he studied in Switzerland in the past and knows some English, which is far more than his provincial father ever accomplished.
As the transition of power unfolds in North Korea, the global markets are poised to turn negative until more details emerge about what type of leadership will emerge from North Korea and how it will impact the global economy.
South Korea’s military is currently on emergency alert. There are growing concerns about what will happen to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program during this new period of transition and instability. North Korea’s other neighbor, China, who has always been concerned about receiving a wave of North Korean refugees, is expressing condolences and support to North Korea.