Kim Jong-un finally emerged back onto the world stage earlier this week after a 20-day absence, which led to much speculation about his health and well-being. The weeks of speculation about the North Korean dictator’s health brought home an alarming fact: no one really knows who will control North Korea and its nuclear weapons should he die.
By Arthur Blok
Last weekend all the speculations came to an end when Kim reappeared after weeks of unexplained absence. He was seen smoking, walking outside and cutting a ribbon of a fertilizer factory outside Pyongyang quieting rumors that he was seriously ill or dead.
But that still wasn’t quite enough to solve the mystery surrounding why he had been absent for so long or questions over his health. Speculations on North Korea’s future and who will follow in his footsteps showed again how little the world knows about what’s happening in North Korea. It also showed how easy misinformation spreads about it.
For the time being it looks like Kim is alive and kicking; Saturday morning North Korean state media released photos and video footage of a happy smiling, and eagerly waving Kim walking before a large crowd at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Which, it said, took place a day earlier on Friday.
Can we be absolutely sure when these pictures were taken? There is the question of if it’s even was Kim himself, as he has a body double. There is also the question of whether or not this was even a real event. Despite, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Just a few weeks ago, conflicting reports emerged calling the health of North Korean leader into question. He was in bad shape — and potentially at death’s door in a vegetative state — after undergoing heart surgery.
The Levant News published just days before a report from a leading Chinese television channel ‘Hong Kong Satellite Television’ (HKSTV) that Kim was dead. A vice director of HKSTV reported the news citing a “solid source”.
Other sources claimed the obese, 36-year-old heavy smoker was at a Wonson resort recovering from a cardiovascular operation. Some analysts, and a South Korean government official, said the reports were wrong.
There was also speculation that Kim might have been self-isolating given the coronavirus pandemic. North Korea has claimed to not have any coronavirus cases, although it was reported in early March that nearly 200 North Korean soldiers had died from COVID-19 complications. North Korea has also quietly reached out to the international groups for help with testing.
The speculation about Mr Kim’s health was sparked after he missed a key anniversary on April 15, the day of the sun, and the commemoration of the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il-sung. Those rumours were only fuelled by claims from high-profile North Korean defectors that the country’s leader was on his death bed.
In 2014, he disappeared for more than a month and later reemerged with a cane. Intelligence indicated that the absence was the result of a cyst removal surgery. Maybe Kim was sick, or maybe he was just enjoying a little vacation at his ocean-side resort. Whatever the reason, it looks like he’s back now. North Korea and the world can worry about something else again.