The past week has seen ample speculation regarding the health of North Korean leader Kim JongUn. We noted in our update two weeks ago that Mr Kim had been absent during a session of theNorth Korean parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly”, that took place on 12 April.
He was also absent during the birthday celebrations of North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung on 15April – “Day of the Sun” – which is considered the most important date in North Korea’s calendar.South Korea’s Ministry of Unification noted that this was the first time Mr Kim had failed to attendhis grandfather’s birthday celebrations since assuming power in 2012.
On 21 April, Daily NK, a South Korean news site focusing on North Korean affairs, cited a NorthKorean source and reported that Mr Kim was recuperating from a recent heart surgery. The sourcereportedly attributed the surgery to Mr Kim’s obesity, heavy smoking, and overwork, and explainedthat recent multiple trips Mr Kim had made to Mount Paektu could have exacerbated his existingblood pressure or inflammation problems.
On 24 April, Japanese tabloid Shukan Gendai published an article claiming that Mr Kim was in “a vegetative state” after a failed heart surgery, citing a Chinese medical source. The source reportedly explained that Mr Kim had collapsed during a site visit, and that North Korea immediately requested Beijing to despatch a medical team.
The South Korean government has voiced doubts on the rumours. On 26 April, an advisor to SouthKorean President Moon Jae-in told media that South Korea’s official position is that Mr Kim “is alive and well”and that “no suspicious movements have so far been detected.”
However, US officials reportedly said that their intelligence indicates that Mr Kim had indeed recently had heartsurgery and may be incapacitated as a result. Reports from 25 April that China had sent a team ofmedical doctors and officials to North Korea to advice on Mr Kim’s condition appear to support thisintelligence. Meanwhile, Australian media reported on the same day that Australian intelligenceofficials are taking reports of Mr Kim’s ill health “seriously”.
But a South Korean official said on Monday that Kim Jong-un is ‘alive and well’.
Foreign policy adviser Chung-in Moon said his government’s position is firmly that the despot is not dead.
The aide said Kim had been living in the Wonsan area of the country since April 13, adding to Fox: ‘No suspicious movements have so far been detected.’
Rumours of his death emerged from the vice director of Hong Kong Satellite Television Shijian Xingzou, who claimed a ‘very solid source’ told her that Kim was dead.
She has 15 million followers on Chinese social media Weibo, and is also the niece of one of the country’s foreign ministers.
Separately, a Japanese media outlet claimed Kim was in a ‘vegetative state’ after he underwent heart surgery earlier in the month.
The despot has not been seen publicly since April 11 when he led a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party committee of policy makers, North Korean state media said.
But Chung-in Moon’s comments appear to have poured cold water on the astonishing claims that he had passed away.
(Partha Bhattacharyya is a former military intelligence colonel who served in Afghanistan and many troubled spots of India before he joined the corporate world as security and risk mitigation adviser)