This year has got the new decade off to a very rocky start. In only four months, 2020 has served up horrific Australian bush fires, a pandemic and economic crisis.
Already the worldwide death toll from Covid-19 has passed 200,000. Yet even as the pandemic settles in, the prospect of another unwelcome twist in current events has been raised.
A fog of uncertainty has hung for days over isolated and secretive North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un, out of the public eye for a fortnight.
The rest of the world has chewed over vague reports and rumours, amid a state-media hush in the Hermit Kingdom over Kim's condition.
There were reports last week that he was recovering from heart surgery, had suffered complications or was in "grave danger". American celebrity news site TMZ unexpectedly entered the speculation fray with a report that Kim had died.
Reuters reported a team of Chinese doctors and officials had been sent to North Korea to check on Kim. Analysts with the 38 North think-tank said satellite imagery showed a train had been parked at his Wonsan compound for at least the past week.
Newsweek quoted Michael Madden, who runs 38 North, as saying a lack of unusual military activity suggests Kim is alive.
South Korea tried to dampen it down with a statement yesterday by an adviser to President Moon Jae In that Kim was "alive and well".
But it seems that should Kim put in an appearance, the speculation about his future and the regime's succession will not go away.
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Though in his mid-30s, he is a heavy smoker and overweight, with a family history of heart problems. That could still mean his reign is ultimately short.
In previous bouts of instability at the top, observers have speculated on dangers and opportunities should the Kim dynasty collapse. A power struggle, nuclear proliferation, refugees, or perhaps unification with Seoul are possible.
Given North Korea's antagonistic role in the world, nuclear weapons and authoritarian government, any regime uncertainty is an extra problem the world does not need.
It is also a reminder that regular contact and co-operation between major powers and China — North Korea's chief ally — is important for global stability. The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are the key players on this issue.
A trade war between Washington and Beijing, blaming over the coronavirus, and ongoing tensions in the South China Sea are among the roadblocks. But also, Tokyo's relations with Seoul have declined in recent years and security costs have become an issue between the US and South Korea of late.
Talks and countries working together will be key to preventing and containing political strains, future coronaviruses and the effects of climate change.
This pandemic and economic woes could bring a fork in the road in international ties. It could accelerate nationalistic and protectionist trends. It could mean countries turn towards more regional pacts rather than putting their faith in grand global strategies. The fallout will continue for some time.