Chinese bloggers and users of social media posted rumors that the new leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, was toppled by a military coup in that secretive nation over the past week.
According to a report in the Washington Post newspaper, Chinese government censors quickly removed the messages which purported, among other things, that soldiers in Pyongyang had seized the state-controlled television station and that Chinese troops were assembling on the border to halt the flow of North Korean refugees.
A Chinese microblogging service called Weibo spread rumors of a North Korean coup, eliciting thousands of comments from fascinated Chinese, until Beijing blocked the messages.
According to the Post, one rumor postulated that Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Song Thaek, had engineered a takeover.
Another rumor suggested that Kim Jong Nam, Jong-un’s elder brother, is actually the new leader.
One Chinese commenter responded to the rumors: “Rumors said North Korea just had a coup, Kim Jong-[Un] has fallen from power. ... if there is really a coup, how will China respond? to protect the old or support the new? ... I think North Korea will be reunited with the South and embark on the democracy road. Just like East Germany reunited with West Germany.”
Another commenter wrote: “Can such a good thing happen? I should open a bottle of wine to celebrate tonight.”
The United States government said there is no confirmation of these rumors.
“There has been no movement among Chinese troops around the border,” one U.S. official told the Post.
Nonetheless, since the sudden death of Kim Jong Il last month, there has been speculation that his son may not be prepared to rule North Korea and also may not have the confidence of the state’s powerful military.
Given the incredible secrecy and isolation of North Korea, even its number one benefactor, China, seems to know little about the running of its government.
For example, it is not known if Jong-un is sharing power or if he is consolidating his command. His age is not even known (most foreign analysts speculate he is in his late 20s).
The Post speculated that if a power struggle erupts in North Korea (or if one already has emerged), the outside world might not even know of it for days or weeks. Reportedly, Jong-il died more than two days before it was officially announced to the rest of the world.
Soon after the death of Jong-il last month, a source told Reuters that Jong-un would likely have to share power with his uncle anyway. However, he also said a coup was unlikely.
It's very unlikely, the source said. The military has pledged allegiance to Kim Jong Un.
Separately, the Los Angeles Times reported that North Korean border guards have been shooting unarmed defectors seeking to escape the poverty-stricken nation.
Citing South Korean media reports, three North Koreans were killed recently trying to cross the Yalu River into China.
Seoul’s Joongang Daily newspaper reported that the new regime in Pyongyang has threatened to jail and even kill relatives of those who manage to escape the repressive country.
Obviously it is getting much harder to defect, Do Hee-yoon, a member of the Citizens' Coalition for the Human Rights of Abductees, told the Korea Times.
According to reports, more than 22,000 North Korean defectors currently reside in the South.