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Queens’ Korean community reacts with anxiety to Kim Jong-il’s death

TimesLedger Newspapers

After the death of North Korea’s secretive dictator Kim Jong-il over the weekend, the large Korean enclave in Flushing and Bayside collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

But community leaders in Queens said they were also still on edge about what will happen next on the peninsula.

“In general, we are glad of the fact that in 2011 there are so many dictators gone,” said Kwang Kim, president of the Korean Community Services, a nonprofit in Flushing. “That is good, and good news for North Korea.”

Kim Jong-il died Saturday morning in the armored train car he often used to travel to Russia or China on state visits. The North Korean News Agency reported his cause of death as physical and mental strain, although he was believed by many outside nations to have suffered a stroke a few years ago.

Kim Jong-il, known worldwide for his trademark sunglasses, coiffed hair and love for Hollywood movies, also garnered notoriety for secretly developing nuclear weapons against the wishes of the international community while running a repressive communist regime that left many of his people starving.

That is partially why Kwang Kim said the Korean Americans living in Queens were happy to see him go.

But consternation came with the recent announcement that Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong-un, was named his successor.

“His son is too young to control North Korea,” Kwang Kim said, referring to the heir who is believed to be in his 20s.

Kwang Kim said hawkish military leaders could ply their influence on the young dictator and create renewed armed conflict with South Korea. And turmoil on the peninsula is the last thing the Korean community wants, he said.

In addition, Koreans all around the borough and across the world will be keeping a close watch on China, which Kwang Kim said could stand to benefit from the potential power vacuum.

In the absence of Kim Jong-il, China could seek to gain political power in the reclusive country or even start using some of North Korea’s land.

But for now all Kim Kwang and others can go on are rumors and the scant pieces of verifiable information they receive from the South Korean government or news agencies.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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