Wouldn’t it be interesting if this turned out to be true?

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il may have suffered serious health problems including a stroke in the past month, U.S. officials believe, raising worries about the stability of the U.S. nemesis and negotiations to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.

Word that the reclusive leader may be incapacitated came after North Korea recently hardened its position in the delicate talks among six countries over its nuclear program. U.S. officials who discussed the situation in recent days expressed concern that they’re not sure who is in charge of the country or the negotiations. Mr. Kim is not known to have taken steps to prepare for a succession, possibly setting the stage for political paralysis or a battle for control.

Any new instability in the Pyongyang government also could require other nations to count more on China as an intermediary, while opening the door for Beijing to exert more influence in the region.

U.S. intelligence is far from perfect when it comes to North Korea, and Mr. Kim could re-emerge in firm command. But he was absent from the country’s 60th-anniversary celebration Tuesday, after speculation had already grown about his health because of a South Korean press report that he collapsed last month and has been visited by doctors from China.

For the record, I don’t think that there is any danger concerning the North Korean nuclear arsenal in the event that Kim is incapacitated. If North Korea could survive the death of Kim Il Sung, it will survive the death of his son.

The danger, as the excerpt points out, is that Chinese influence will be dramatically augmented in the region–potentially to the detriment of that of the United States. We rely on the Chinese, of course, to assist in helping organize and move along the six-party talks aimed at nuclear disarmament in North Korea. Through that process, we accept a certain increase in Chinese influence and prestige in the region. The question is whether any power vacuum in North Korea and the internal disruption that would come with that chaos, will serve to help China not only become a regional force, but a genuine regional hegemon.

And of course, there is no talk whatsoever concerning this issue on the campaign trail. A pity; I thought that we were in the process of electing a President.