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Knowledge about North Korea’s Kim Jong Un is limited, but crucial

  
  
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  New rumors about Kim Jong Un pour in daily. The North Korean leader is dead. Or he’s very ill. Or maybe he’s just recuperating in his luxury compound, or isolating himself from the coronavirus. As speculation about his health builds, an underlying question looms for professional spies, policymakers, academics and curious news consumers alike. What do we really know about the man who leads North Korea? The answer is crucial because Kim’s intentions, and the as-yet-unknown state of his health, play an outsized role in the workings of Northeast Asia, an uneasy collection of wary neighbors at the best of times and home to two of the three biggest economies in the world and a huge buildup of American military machinery and manpower. Sandwiched amid goliaths, North Korea is a small, impoverished, extraordinarily proud nation that through sheer force of will — and a relentless cult of personality built around a single family — has been at the center of a half-century security headache for its neighbors. No matter how successful China, South Korea and Japan become — and their transformation from war, poverty and domestic infighting into political and economic might has been spectacular — North Korea and its single-minded pursuit of nuclear-tipped missiles meant to protect the Kim family has made itself impossible to ignore, holding the region and Washington hostage to its narrow ambitions.
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