So far, it has only been admitted by North Korean state media that Kim Jong Un has been suffering from ‘discomfort’.
This admission in itself has been viewed as having potential significance.
Speculation about the seriousness of Kim Jong Un’s condition has gathered some momentum because he has not been seen in public for some time.
So far, various attempts have been made to prognose the actual condition of the latest of the Kim dynasty.
Some reports say he is suffering from gout, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments, often associated with these conditions.
Kim Jong Un - who succeeded his father Kim Jong Ill after his death from a heart attack in 2011 - is known for his authoritarian rule and lavish personal lifestyle.
This is in contrast to the desperate poverty suffered by most ordinary citizens living in North Korea.
But what are some of the possible (and potentially very serious) geopolitical consequences if Kim Jong Un’s health deteriorated to the extent that he could no longer rule?
1. “It never happened” - the notoriously secretive state continues to preserve a veil of secrecy over the truth and refuse to acknowledge Kim Jong Un’s demise. Close advisers to the Premier continue to run the show behind the scenes. Body doubles would be used, a scenario already considered common in the DPPK, whenever Kim Jong Un is unable to attend public events or it is considered unsafe for him to do so. The look-alike’s are already standing by, no doubt;
2. An uncharacteristic outbreak of openness prevails and the DPPK acknowledges that Kim Jong Un is in bad health. A puppet figure, prominent within the DPPK, is immediately installed. Kim Jong Un’s sympathisers draw up a new constitution, which somehow circumvents the need for the Kim dynasty to perpetuate;
3. A coup is attempted (similar to those failed uprisings in the years shortly before and after Kim Jong Ill’s passing). Those elements in the North Korean military which are sympathetic to some kind of reparation of relationships with the west gain an upper hand.
Sounds promising, yet this could easily spark a swift and brutal backlash. The Korean Worker’s party (effectively in power ever since the division of the North and South post 1945) have significant dominance and control of the levers of military power and would, predictably, be ruthlessly keen to maintain their own grip on government. It should not be forgotten that overwhelming numbers of the population still support the notion of North Korea’s supreme rulership by the Kim Sum dynasty – despite the suppression of education and human freedom
4. Reunification occurs between the two Koreas for the first time since the break-up of the peninsula. The civil war between 1950-53 led to the North taking control of the country. This was quickly repelled by US forces back to as far as the border line, which is known as the now infamous 250-mile demilitarized zone (DMZ). This border line still today acts as a buffer between what is generally considered an autocratic North and democratic South Korea.
5. An increasingly assertive and militarily confident China takes its opportunity to launch an intervention which involves propping up a figure (sinecure) of its choosing, a figure likely already based inside the country’s political factions and therefore amenable to members of the Workers Party. In what would be highly unstable and uncertain times it is not necessarily unthinkable to foresee attempts made to bring North Korea, once more, into the fold.