Where is Kim? North Korean leader’s prolonged absence sparks widespread speculation

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (pictured) has missed important engagements recently as speculation mounts regarding his health. Source: China Plus News

 

By Xiao Ming

 


THE SYDNEY POST – 23-04-2020 – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s absence over recent days, most notably from his grandfather Kim Il-sung’s memorial service at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in the capital Pyongyang, also the resting place of his late father Kim Jong-il, has sparked widespread speculation over the 36-year-old’s health as rumours continue to run rife in mainstream media around the globe.

 

Kim, who became leader in 2011 after the death of his father, was speculated to be, according to reports “gravely ill” after a cardiovascular operation and is currently recovering at his Hyangsan residence near the infamous Mt Myohyang, not far from the Chinese border.

 

Kim was last seen in public chairing a nationwide meeting of local and high level officials from the ruling Workers Party of Korea (WPK) on April 11, 2020.

 

It is still unclear what state he is in, or even if he is sick at all.

 

The official report published by US media outlet CNN cited an intelligence official who has “insider” knowledge about the usually secretive government. Related reports have been trending in the last several days as North Korean media has reported fairly little about Kim’s activities, which is highly unusual.

 

If reports in North Korean media about the leaders’ activities come to an abrupt halt, it maybe an indication that Kim has taken absence for personal reasons, gone into surgery or may have even passed away, as was seen with his late father Kim Jong-il in 2011.

 

US President Donald Trump said on twitter his prayers are with Kim Jong-un and highlighted their close partnership despite recent failures to strike a nuclear deal, which failure North Korea has attributed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former advisor John Bolton.

 

South Korea and China have rebuked CNN reports saying that activity in the country is continuing as normal and there is no indication that the leader has taken an absence of leave. US intelligence officials have also rejected the reports as merely speculation but are following the situation closely.

 

US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said during an interview that the US is “monitoring these reports very closely” adding that North Korea is a closed society that rarely lets personal information, especially regarding the health of the leaders, slip out.

 

Kim, who is visibly overweight with alleged diabetes, a heavy smoker and often works long hours, went missing for a month in 2014 after undergoing a foot operation due to reportedly being diagnosed with gout, a condition that his father and grandfather had on various occasions throughout their lives.

 

Recent concerns regarding Kim’s health have triggered widespread fears regarding the regime’s future if he doesn’t return to his leadership post. Some have even predicted a civil war would ensue, but these reports are highly speculative that should be taken with a grain of salt.

 

A more plausible explanation could be that North Korea has several confirmed cases of COVID-19 and Kim, who isn’t in great health, was isolated as a precautionary measure due to him often being seen touching and hugging North Korean citizens in public.

 

Kim was seen visibly panting after planting a tree at an Inter-Korean summit that took place on 27th April 2018 at Panmunjom, the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea, evidence that his health maybe below par.

 

Kim allegedly having diabetes, heart problems and smoking heavily makes him a prime candidate for developing critical complications of COVID-19 as many of the people who die from the illness reportedly have similar health profiles. It would make sense that North Korea would isolate Kim to stop him becoming infected.

 

These reports are in line with a recent article trending online that North Koreans have, according to an insider, begun hoarding items at local stores as potential local spread of COVID-19 could usher in a humanitarian crisis in the country.

 

The spread could be due to an earlier outbreak that may have crossed from Dandong, a Chinese border city via returning North Korean workers or another caused by a spike of infections reported in Northeast China as North Korea has many businesses operating the region, who only strictly employ citizens.

 

The North Korean authorities have so far reported no cases of coronavirus in the country, however this claim has been widely challenged by North Korean scholars, some citizens whom have contact with China, South Korean and US intelligence agencies.

 

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