It is rare for a state-run South Korean think tank to go into such detail in forecasting changes in North Korea in a publicly issued report since such speculation is a red rag to Pyongyang.
On Friday, North Korea's powerful National Defense Commission vowed a "sacred battle" against South Korea over a contingency plan for the fall of the communist government. "It is possible that Kim Jong-il's days are numbered, considering his age (68), the fact that he suffered a debilitating stroke in August 2008 and that he has been afflicted by other chronic conditions, including heart disease and obesity," said a source familiar with North Korean affairs.
Cho Min, a KINU researcher involved in the report, said the predictions are "hypothetical." "The year 2012 is when North Korea has vowed to become a military and economic power, so it's a crucial year for the country if there is a leadership change," he said. "Kim's health is the biggest variable in forecasting the future of the North Korean regime."
But KINU has drawn criticism in South Korea for issuing the report at a time when North Korea is especially sensitive to any reference to the regime. The report "touched a raw nerve among North Koreans by addressing the regime," said Yang Mu-jin, a professor at Kyungnam University of North Korean Studies. He warned the North could "respond angrily" again.
One security expert at a private South Korean think tank said, "Rather than being a rational projection, the report appears to have been written based on wishful thinking." "Nobody can be sure exactly how much longer Kim Jong-il will live or whether the North Korean leadership will collapse," he added.