A Modest Proposal to Solve Our North Korea Problem

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits a chase attack aircraft group under the Air and Anti-Aircraft Division in the western area in an undated image released by the Korean Central News Agency in North Korea on April 12, 2020. (KCNA / via Reuters)

Give me a pliable Kim impersonator and I’ll make Pyongyang’s threat disappear.


orth KoreaSupreme leader Kim Jong-un recently returned after a three-week absence and then disappeared for a few more weeks. In fact, some observers believe that the well-published ‘return’ was fake news, the work of a doppelganger to preserve the fiction that Kim lives and amid widespread speculation about his health.

“The photos have instead raised the suspicion that a lookalike might have been in its place – with web sleuths noticing differences in facial hairline and dental features compared to previous appearances,” New York Post reported.

If the skeptics are right, the fear of North Korea’s instability or collapse – and the armed conflict that could result – remains. But their position has received little support, especially from established analysts. It would be an extraordinary propaganda coup if the North Korean regime deployed a doppelganger for weeks or months while Kim was dead or incapacitated for work.

There has never been confirmation that an official Kim double exists, although it is certainly possible. Over there isbut a Chinese impersonator, Jia Yongtang. He accidentally fell on the job. In 2012, he worked as a security guard in Beijing when someone noticed his uncanny resemblance to Kim. He is only a few years older than Kim and found it easy to mimic the supreme leader’s hairstyle. Keeping up with Kim’s weight was more of a problem: Even after reaching 60 pounds, Jia missed the first’s girth. But he still lives on from the parable. He even once collaborated with a Barack Obama lookalike for a “summit” between the US and North Korea.

Jia is a good match he once played against the Washington Post he feared that the Americans “think I really am Kim Jong-un and come here to kill me.” That seems like a stretch – even the least skilled intelligence analyst probably won’t mistake Jia for Kim when the former travels through China without the security guards, Mercedes and the portable toilet the latter needs. And by the way, no agent would intend to kill President Donald Trump’s close personal friend – that just wouldn’t be a good career switch.

Still, there is a way in which the US can make great use of Jia.

The US needs a new strategy to deal with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a peaceful way to resolve the current confrontation. And I have one! Washington should adapt the script of the 1993 movie Dave, in which a lookalike is recruited to be subsidized for the President after he has suffered a debilitating stroke. Instead of killing Jia, the Trump administration should hire him.

He should of course be fattened up, teach Korean and be coached to pick up the Supreme Leader’s ways and speech patterns. Then a large exchange must be arranged. The supreme leader is apparently hidden on a beach complex near Wonsan, on the north coast of the north. Infiltration wouldn’t be easy, even for SEAL Team 6, and a lot could go wrong. A better strategy would be to host another Trump-Kim summit. In a seemingly desperate attempt to achieve a major diplomatic victory before the November elections, Trump could invite his North Korean friend to a signing ceremony at the White House, promising to lift economic sanctions. The details of the alleged deal don’t matter as long as Kim made the trip to Washington. And how could he say no? He would expect sanctions relief and the ultimate photo op!

Once Kim was in America, the exchange would be easy to arrange. But what to do with ‘old’ Kim once he’s out of service? After being slimmed down and adjusted through appropriate cosmetic surgery, it can be marketed in South Korea. No doubt he would try unsuccessfully to convince everyone he met that he was the rightful leader of the North and found himself written off as an inveterate crank.

As for the “new” Kim, the possibilities are almost endless, although it’s probably best not to change too soon once he’s in power. He could cash in on the old guard around him while promoting likely reformers. The main thing would be to send those who know old Kim best, such as sister Kim Yo-jong and brother Kim Jong-chul, abroad. Yo-jong can be an ambassador in various European countries; that was how Kim Jong-il got rid of his half-brother, who posed a political threat. Jong-chul would be happy as a wandering cultural ambassador, free to attend the rock concerts he would love.

With that out of the way, the new Kim would be free to announce that work on nuclear and other mass destruction programs would be halted to coincide with the lifting of sanctions. And to announce a new investment code to encourage foreign investment while establishing visa-free access for Americans and South Koreans. And to make a deal with the South to ease military tensions, by withdrawing conventional forces from the border and opening the DMZ to traffic between the two Koreas.

The most important would be domestic liberalization: freeing political prisoners, closing concentration camps, allowing freedom of worship, legalizing contacts abroad and more. Once such steps were taken, the new Kim was able to go with the flow, as it were.

Could this view be somewhat Pollyannish? Perhaps. But I insist that the effort would be worth it. After all, the alternative is probably the survival of a totalitarian, nuclear North Korea, a fragile regime that could collapse unexpectedly and violently at any time. It is definitely worth looking for a different result.

All it would take is a pleasant Kim impersonator!

A Modest Proposal to Solve Our North Korea Problem

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Foreign follies: America’s New Global Empire. He was recently a resident scholar at the Center for Independent Studies in Sydney, Australia.

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