Kim Jong-il’s Death Draws Major Reactions in Asia

The death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il this week provoked a variety of reactions across the globe. Kim Jong-un, the late Kim’s third son, will succeed his father. In this post, we examine reactions to Kim’s death from Asia and what it means for North Korea’s future.


Given Japan’s proximity and interest in the Korean peninsula, reactions were markedly heightened. Many speculated on what the post-Kim era might mean for Japanese interests in the region.

Kim’s death triggered a flurry of responses from Japanese government officials, who emphasized their hope for continued stability while monitoring developments on the Korean peninsula:

A group of academics mulled over North Korea’s future and its relations with the rest of the world in aroundtable interview with the Asahi Shimbun.

  • Noting Pyongyang’s close ties with Beijing, Masao Okonogi, professor emeritus at Keio University, predicted that China’s leaders will support the Kim Jong-un regime, fearing the consequences of a North Korea plunged into turmoil. Okonogi also predicted that North Korea’s foreign policy will remain unchanged for the time being.
  • Shunji Hiraiwa, a professor of North Korean politics and diplomacy at Kwansei Gakuin University, added that although Kim Jong-un studied in Switzerland, this does not necessarily mean he has a more open mind towards the West. Since for the time being, he will be supported by the party and the military, “It will take time for his personality to be reflected in the country’s external policies.”

Several editorials highlighted Kim’s death as an opportunity to spur investigations into the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, which Pyongyang admitted to during a September 2002 visit by former Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.


There is little discussion of India’s broader interests in Northeast Asia, but commentaries do reflect the range of foreign policy orientations in Indian society.


A common theme in the state-controlled press was the expectation of a peaceful and stable transition in North Korea.


Officials announced that relations between Moscow and Pyongyang would remain unaffected, while some commentators alluded to a possible opening in DPRK relations with the change in leadership. 

President Dmitry Medvedev sent his condolences to Kim Jong-un on Monday, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Kim Jong-il’s death would not impair relations between Russia and North Korea.

Several scholars debated whether Kim Jong-un’s ascension might bring liberalization to the DPRK’s foreign relations:

  • Raising a parallel with the Soviet Union, researcher Yevgeny Kim at the Institute of the Far East with the Russian Academy of Sciences said that the “possible emergence of a figure similar to progressive leader Mikhail Gorbachev could lead to the ‘destruction’ of the North Korean regime.
  • Pavel Leshakov, a Korea expert at Moscow State University, disagreed, noting that “the Soviet example has taught the North Korean elite not to embrace outright reformism.”


  • Characterizing North Korea’s future as “uncertain“, Gregg Brazinsky, associate professor of history and international affairs at the George Washington University asserted that “Pyongyang’s most pressing concern right now is likely that its adversaries will view Kim Jong Il’s death as a sign of weakness and initiate new efforts to topple the North Korean government,” For this reason, Brazinsky urged the Obama administration to “do something to alleviate some of the fear and mistrust.”
  • Narushige Michishita, an expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, noted that because Kim Jong-un is closer in age to young policymakers of his generation who have developed a taste for cell phones and computers, “we can expect some new things, but we don’t know if that will result in political transformation.”

About risingpowers
Sigur Center for Asian Studies Elliott School of International Affairs The George Washington University

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