Kim Yang Gon, the North Korean official who was responsible for handling the country’s fraught relationship with South Korea, has died in an automobile accident, according to CNN. The death was reported by state media, and has been followed by waves of speculation about whether those reports are telling the whole story.
“This is a country that always controls the media and the message.”
Kim Yang Gon was a close associate of North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un, who rules the country with an iron fist and controls the output of its shackled media. Kim Yang Gon was the head of the North Korean United Front Department and oversaw the team that handled ties with South Korea. The now-deceased official was said to be Kim Jong Un’s “closest comrade, a solid revolutionary partner,” according to the KCNA news agency.
It’s almost impossible to verify what is exactly happening among the North’s secretive, authoritarian ruling elite.
No details of his death were given other than the fact that it came on Tuesday in an automobile accident, and that Kim Yang Gon died at the age of 73, according to Times Of Man.
Kim’s death is just the latest in a spate of highest-ranking deaths. Two years ago, the execution of dictator Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, was reported by the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Jang had been considered North Korea’s No. 2 official, and was responsible for handling North Korea’s relationship with Beijing. In fact, the execution strained North Korean relations with Beijing, raising questions about the stability of the regime and the brutal approach of North Korea’s leader.
The new death has raised suspicions. Many speculate that Mr. Kim may have been “purged,” perhaps due to some king of botched diplomacy effort that created problems for the dictator, or due to perceived disloyalty, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Kim Yang Gon appeared to have been performing his duties adequately. In August of this year, a border blast injured two South Korean soldiers after tensions between the two nations escalated. Many feared the incident would end in a military confrontation, but a delegation led by Mr. Kim managed to negotiate a peace plan.
Several high-level officials have died in traffic accidents in North Korea over the years.
“North Korea has a long track record of suspicious deaths around high-level officials. Most die either because they are machine-gunned, or they die in car crashes”.
Kim Jong-un will lead an 80-member state funeral for Mr. Kim on Thursday.
CBS reports that there had been no signs of factional tensions involving Kim Yang Gon within the North Korean administration prior to his death. In fact, many believed the marathon talks at the Korean border, in which Mr, Kim helped to defuse a military standoff, had been regarded as a great success, and that the effort should have increased the dictator’s trust in his now-deceased senior official.
“With regard to South Korean policy, Kim Yang-gon had a very good social network and was a good interlocutor for the North with the South.”
Other nations in the region have expressed their condolences following the state-reported death of the dictator’s aide. South Korea sent a message via its Unification Minister through the Panmunjom truce village on the militarized border. The South expressed condolences, putting aside fraught relations between the nations for the moment.
China, a major economic and diplomatic backer of North Korea, also sent their condolences. The Chinese message expressed appreciation for Mr. Kim’s achievements in promoting relations between North and South Korea.
A North Korea expert spoke to Reuters about the suspicious character of the recent death. Andrei Lankov explained that it is unlikely that so many car-related deaths could be occurring as genuine “accidents” in North Korea, a country of few cars and tight security for officials.
“There are almost no cars and security for high-officials travelling in cars is extremely tight. Given that, one is bound to be skeptical about any such report coming from North Korea.”
(Photo by Handout via Getty Images)