Death of Kim Jong Il: Nightmare For China, S. Korea, Japan

Death came by way of physical fatigue, as Pyongyang’s official news agency had it. But Kim Jong Il had worn out his welcome again and again on the international stage, claiming attention only by way of nuclear powder puffs and tremors as well as the constant threat of taking out one of the world’s major economic powers, South Korea, the miracle mirror image of his own depressed and dark North Korea.

How he really died — of natural causes or of, well, intervention of a military or conspiratorial sort — will help determine the nature of the successor regime. To have legitimacy, whatever that means for North Korea, the new government will be headed by his son Kim Jong Un, already designated the heir in elaborate if cloudy rituals toward the end of 2010. The fear is that the new leader, who is only in his 20s, may be required to show his teeth and cold-bloodedness as proof that he has come of age. How that manifests itself is the stuff of nightmares for Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, Moscow and Washington.

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