The power vacuum in North Korea following the sudden death of leader Kim Jong Il could destabilize the region and draw China and the United States into more direct conflict, says Gordon Chang, a Forbes contributor and an expert on the country.
Kim Jong Il's death at 69 came as a surprise to Chang and other North Korea watchers. And it could throw the country into chaos.
Kim Jong Il's son and chosen successor, Kim Jong Un, has only been groomed to take over the country for a year. To say he is not ready to assume command of the country's political system, economy, and military, therefore, is probably an understatement. To maintain his family's grip on power, Kim Jong Un will likely have to purge the party and military of anyone he feels might undermine his authority. This could cause turmoil and, potentially, a coup.
Meanwhile, North Korea sits between South Korean ally the United States and North Korean ally China. Any sign that the North Korean regime is crumbling could prompt one or both sides to act to protect their interests, which could create further friction between the U.S. and China.
The bottom line, according to Chang, is that no one knows what will happen in North Korea, but the situation is dangerous and destabilizing--not just for North Korea, but for the region and world.