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Just how sick is Kim Jong Un?

Whatever is going on inside the reclusive nation could have massive implications for the region and the U.S. because Kim Jong Un is the dynastic dictator of a very fragile nation that has nuclear arms.

No one knows how badly the coronavirus may have ravaged North Korea’s already cratered economy. And now U.S. officials say they’ve been told that Kim — in his mid 30s, a smoker and overweight — underwent cardiovascular surgery last week, with one saying he took a turn for the worse afterward. Some reports say he’s still critically ill, though South Korea’s presidential office said Kim is conducting “normal activities” in a rural part of the country.

Kim has consolidated power since he took over in late 2011 when his father died. He’s shown a merciless streak, having his uncle and senior military officers killed. His half-brother was assassinated in 2017 at an airport in Malaysia with a nerve agent.

While he may have taken out potential rivals, if he were to die it’s hard to know who would replace him. His sister has taken on a more prominent role, though no woman has ever ruled North Korea.

Would a new leader keep lines of communication open to ally China, to the U.S.? Would they restart long-range missile tests to stamp their authority? Nuclear tests?

Kim is, for better or worse, something of a known quantity. His demise would push the country into unchartered waters.

— Rosalind Mathieson 

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