Kim Jong Il Death Watch

The Daily Mail has republished photos, released yesterday by KCNA, showing Kim Jong Il visiting what’s described elsewhere as the Kim Jong Suk Sanitarium. The report doesn’t specify what city it’s in, but Kim Jong Suk is Kim Jong Il’s mother and a native of Hoeryong in North Hamgyeong Province. Many of the sites in Hoeryong are named after her.

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You’d think that a country that’s trying to show the vigor of its geriatric oligarch wouldn’t dress him in funereal black. Don’t those North Koreans know that black is a slimming color?

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Is that a metal rod propping you up, or are you just happy to see me?

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[First pic from The Daily Mail, via KCNA and Reuters; second pic via the AP and KCNA; third pic, KNCA via AFP]

The Daily Mail’s use of the loaded word “companion” to describe the woman with Kim Jong Il is probably baseless. Most likely, she’s just local talent — a hostess or tour guide selected to lead Kim around during his break from posing at a multitude of factories, fisheries, and other backdrops. Historically, Kim’s wives, mistresses, and pleasure squads have been kept away from cameras. Kim Jong Il probably lusts for many things nowadays — a legacy, regional hegemony, total control over his borders, culling what’s left of his “hostile” class, missiles that can reach Arkansas — but he looks very much like a man who has passed his sexual life expectancy.

Here’s hoping he’ll pass the physical one with all due haste, but none of KNCA’s pictures suggest that that’s imminent. By my eyes, he looks no better or worse than in previous photos. A caveat: these pictures were released yesterday, but KNCA didn’t say when they were taken, and North Korea has a history of giving misleading information about the dates photographs were taken. Comparing these to previous pictures of Kim Jong Il and noting that the North Koreans at least managed to get the background foliage right this time, I’d say they were taken recently, at least since last June. Last year, he was probably in much worse shape and significantly heavier. The current rumor, of course, is that he’s dying of pancreatic cancer.

One thing that these photos do seem to prove is that Kim Jong Il has been traveling widely in his kingdom. He’s rumored to have acquired a fear of flying after he was injured in a 1976 helicopter crash. He might have visited all of these places in his personal 16-car train, but given the horrible condition of the country’s railroads, a train probably couldn’t have moved very quickly. It’s more likely that Kim Jong Il took some long road trips, and just for context, it’s probably about a 400 drive from Pyongyang to Chongjin. Granted, Kim Jong Il doesn’t have to worry about traffic congestion or speed traps, but the condition of the highways is spotty, and 400 miles is the better part of a day’s drive anywhere.

Interestingly, many of the points on this itinerary are coastal cities, which may explain why North Korea was interested in buying Italian luxury yachts.

Other released photos show His Withering Majesty at the Songjin Steel Complex in North Hamgyeong Province, probably Chongjin, …

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the Munchon Middle School …

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the Wonsan Salt Manufactory …

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the May 11 Smelting Works …

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And the “Kim Chaek Daeheung marine products company,” which Reuters says is “at an undisclosed place,” but which I’ll go out on a long limb and place at the city of Kim Chaek, halfway up the coast from Wonsan to Najin.

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This is not a complete list, if you include pictures KCNA released in August. All pictures below the jump are from KCNA, via Reuters, the AP, or AFP.

Related: The Chosun Ilbo has newly-released pictures of Kim Jong Il as a kid — a really, really mean-looking kid. Hat tip to GI Korea.

15 Comments

  1. Great post, Joshua. His companion (in “hottie3.jpg”) looks a bit like Kim Jong Suk somehow. Between reading the Good Friends reports and talking with dried seafood vendors in Dandong and Yanji, I suspect that most of that fish he’s checking out is probably meant for export.

    And although Kim Jong Il is indeed a “mean looking kid” in the fascinating still from the new biopic, it’s a reminder that the photo was most likely taken in northeast China, where young Kim Jong Il sat out most of the war after what was most likely a traumatic exodus. (Well, it was _definitely_ a traumatic exodus.)

    That’s part of the paradox here: the Dear Leader was himself a refugee into China the last time North Korea basically collapsed. Where is his empathy for the refugees today?

    Of course, the North Korean historians now spin tales of him “at his father’s side in the headquarters” during the Korean War, where presumably he told Marshal Peng Dehuai to stop bossing his dad around (while waving his paternal grandfather’s polished pistol, given to him by his crack-shot mother around the same time they were living with a couple of Japanese orphans).

    I am hunting, slowly, through various Chinese archives trying to find more information about his childhood among records regarding North Korean refugees moving into the PRC during the war. Since he’s a high-level kid, we might not find anything, but then again we might. I did run across a handful of files from 1953 when North Korean party historians were sent off to the Chinese northeast to collect evidence of Kim Il Sung’s old revolutionary exploits. But no discussion of his kids, much less his wife. The North Korean party historians in 1953 weren’t even tasked with finding information about Kim Jong Suk! It was hard enough to find Kim Il Song’s relics. Of course, although the embassy is down the street, no North Korean scholars or historians come in to look at the stuff. That China is willing to just put this potentially-humbling stuff out there for historians (along with Foreign Ministry complaints about the North Koreans from during and after the Korean War) is just another indication that, from the standpoint of certain information, they’re less and less interested in protecting Pyongyang’s flank.

    Thanks to you (and GI Korea) for making the photo available.




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  2. He looks thinner and more frail compared to previously released images, including those of Clinton’s visit. Is it my imagination or do I detect a splotch of plum-hued blush on his cheek in that first photo? Even Pyongyang’s most skilled make-up artist can’t keep him from looking ten years older than his real age.




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  3. Just like in the White House, for that matter, Inspector! My inner Eisenhower Democrat was screaming when our current C-in-C reappointed Bernanke sans cravat.

    As for Sonagi’s comment, isn’t it the case that all of the photos from the Clinton visit were provided by KCNA? I don’t believe there was some pool of Xinhua reporters there. It would be interesting to check the potential for those having been edited heavily. Of course, none of this may matter in a few months’ (?) time when the Dear Leader “goes to meet Marx,” as Mao once said to Nixon. The title of the post says it all.




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  4. I wonder who the primary target audience is for the images?

    Why does he have to show them? What does he gain by being seen in photos abroad? I really can’t think of what that accomplishes in terms of the situation with Japan, SK, or the US.

    I could picture a need to show China that he’s healthy enough rule to ease China’s fears of (and subsequent preparations for) his demise and national collapse. But, given China’s position and style, I think if the Chinese wanted to gauge his health, they send somebody to knock and his door and eye him personally. I don’t think China would sit back and take still photos or manicured film footage as a basis for speculation when they can demand an audience…

    And since I can’t really see what Pyongyang could hope to gain with the other key players by showing pictures that show KJI isn’t already pushing up daisies but is looking like death warmed over —- I have to lean toward the idea these shots are necessary to shore up the ruling cliche’s hold on the North Korean people.

    If that is true — if they are willing to allow images of KJI in bad health leak out to the outside world because they have to use those images to convince their own people he’s still in control — it might be significant.

    Not a great way to put it on my part, but the idea is —- These images of a weak, teetering-on-the-brink-of-death KJI are not going to help NK with the US, Japan, or SK – or China. (They could possibly be misguided and think that the images will help the regime aboard, I don’t know…)

    But if Pyongyang is aware that such images of a weak, 2/3rd dead KJI will negatively influence NK’s position in regards to the outside world — then they must be putting them out because they have to in terms of the environment among the North Korean people…

    If that makes any sense……but I’m giving up, because I’m not going to able to word it any better than that….




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  5. Kim Jong-Il’s mortality is axiomatic. All foreign ministries have to take it into account. I just hope the Chinese government will cooperate with South Korea, Japan, and the United States. How’s this for a plan: Chinese forces stay out of Korea, the South annexes the North, and American forces withdraw? I leave the details to competent professionals.




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  6. @Adam:

    In the Clinton visit photos provided by the KCNA, Kim Jong-il’s face looks airbrushed to the point of blurriness.




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  7. Glans, Northeast Asia needs the US military presence. It is the only player in the region not after another’s territory.

    How about the US just agreeing not to put any bases in the territory of the former DPRK?




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  8. ERASE THIS MESSAGE:

    Joshua, why do half of my messages end up going through and half don’t (the ones that don’t go through usually end up being fished out of a spam filter, I presume).

    I just sent two link-less comments on two different posts and one went through while the other is in limbo.




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  9. Birkenstocks! Glorious reference! I was hoping that North Korea could get some export deal for those hemp tote bags at Trader Joe’s that you mentioned earlier, and that there was some way of using the environmental issue to leverage the upscale eco-left in my American city of Seattle to get interested in North Korean human (eco) rights. In general it would be good to have a Birkenstock-Penny Loafer coalition on North Korea, even if the comments queue gets a little slow for some of us.

    As for the Wikipedia entry on Kim Jong-un, it is half-decent (16 reasonably credible footnotes) but fails to include the extensive German interview with his classmate (so far as I know, is only available in English translation here) or the standard L’Hebdo article on Kim Jong-un (which I have yet to translate but may get around to if I can get hopped-up enough on espresso and organic goat cheese). It’s all about “2Pak Chol.” But be forewarned: if you open the French link, there is usually some sexy magazine cover side bar about infidelity. Who ever said the Francophone Europeans had trouble being subtle in their critiques of the Kim regime?




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  10. I’m a grad student. I can’t afford Birkenstocks for the moment.

    There was the time someone spammed hundreds of blogs with my account and got me flagged as a spambot, preventing me from getting into my own blog! I wonder if tags from that misadventure aren’t floating around.

    Anyway, I only pointed it out this time (since I know you’re aware of the problem since you’ve commented on it yourself) because of the curious fact that at almost the same time on the same computer at the same IP address in the same format one got through but the other didn’t.

    Now I don’t want to leave this comment without addressing the post at hand, so I’ll just opine: Why does the sixth picture remind me of an 1980s Alan Parsons Project album cover?




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  11. What’s with the hippie cliches? A fifty-something, very small town grandma-looking colleague of mine owns at least forty pairs. I kid you not.




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  12. The one of the guys in front of the factory has a kind of Pink Floyd-esque quality to it.
    Maybe I’m getting a little too continental, but I’ve never seen such a collection of deeply unattractive individuals. Kim appears to be slowly melting…hope it speeds up.




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