Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday rumor mill: China and Korea

Two stories from the rumor mill today, both appearing at The Australian news site (which makes you think they’re either great investigative reporters, or just really bored this weekend).

Rumor #1: Forget ill, speculation now is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is in fact dead and that the news will be formally announced on Monday.

Rumors have been flying about Kim for the past month after he failed to appear at several major public events in North Korea. The state-controlled media showed footage of Kim last week to quell the rumors about his health, but sharp-eyed critics were quick to point out that the “new” footage showed plants in bloom that normally only grow in the summertime, which made the video look a bit fishy.

It’s suspected that something big is up in North Korea: officials were told not to travel abroad, the country sealed its borders yesterday and North Korean diplomats worldwide were told to be on standby for a “major announcement” on Monday.

Some Korea watchers think the major announcement will be of Kim’s death, though other possibilities include a coup or of a drastic change in relations with South Korea (relations between the two Koreas have been steadily worsening in recent months). We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Rumor #2: That popular Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is about to be ousted by hard-line Communists within the government.

Sometimes called “Grandpa Wen” for his connection to the common man in China, Wen has been the driving force behind many of China’s recent reforms. But while they have helped to improve relations with the West, they have not been popular with some members of China’s ruling Communist Party.

Now Wen’s boldest reform – a land deal that would give China’s 700,000,000 peasant farmers control over the fields they worked - has been put on hold.

Tensions have been rising between reformers in the government who are pushing for more Western-style freedoms for the people, and hard-line Communists who want the state to remain at the center of society. Wen’s ouster would be a blow to the reformers and would strengthen the position of China’s other top politician, President Hu Jintao.
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