Throughout the whole year of 2020, North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has been making headlines for a handful of conjectures. First off, we thought he was dead. Then, people thought he was in a coma. The answer to why Kim’s health became the subject of global intrigue lies in the fact that the leader—read dictator—went absent for 20 days last year, when he missed birthday celebrations for his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung.
The Seoul-based news site Daily NK reported that Kim had undergone a “cardiovascular surgical procedure,” and, when he finally emerged, the publication cited a mark on his wrist as possible evidence to support this theory. Even back in 2014, he dropped out of sight for nearly six weeks before reappearing with a walking stick.
The North Korean leader’s weight has long been tracked by spy agencies for clues about the stability of his autocratic and secretive regime, especially since his family is known to have a history of heart disease. South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers in November that Kim weighed an estimated 140 kilograms (309 pounds) and had gained about 50 kilograms since coming to power in 2011.
Kim hadn’t been featured in North Korean state media for about a month before it was reported that on Saturday 5 June he had attended a ruling party meeting on economic issues—the country’s economy has shown little sign of growth this year, after its worst contraction in decades, as it continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, US sanctions and a lack of trade with China. Oh, but North Korea continues to insist that it has not found a single case of the virus after sealing its borders with China and Russia, and halting air travel. This is almost as believable as Kim Jong-un’s “legendary miracle year of 2019.”
Following this appearance, people not only noticed Kim’s significant weight loss but also how he had tightened the strap on his favourite watch, the IWC Schaffhausen Portofino, reportedly worth $12,000. Seoul-based NK News published and compared enlarged images of the leader’s left wrist, which showed it to be considerably thinner than in similar images taken in November 2020, and March 2021.
Whether the North Korean leader is simply preparing for his hot dictator summer or trying to improve his standing at home—the country is also battling food shortages on top of everything else—remains unprovable.
The real question (and worry) that remains is whether Kim is healthy enough to remain the leader for the foreseeable future? And if not, how will this impact the security of such a nuke-riddled corner of the Earth?
North Korea is yet to confirm the reports, but many have been speculating over the country’s leader Kim Jong-un and whether he is still alive or not. This rumour started when a video titled Our Beloved Supreme Leader Comrade Kim Jong Un passed away during on-the-spot guidance circulated in the area of North Korea bordering China. Local authorities are still trying to determine how the video entered the country in the first place.
The five-minute clip features the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, the memorial of the founder of North Korea Kim Il-sung, South Korean online newspaper Daily NK reported. The video alleged that Jong-un died during a guided field trip on 25 April. Is it true, is Kim Jong-un dead? Here’s what we know so far.
Many have declared that the scenes shown in the video are actually from a previous ceremony that commemorated former leader Kim Jong II’s death. And although the footage may not be authentic, it certainly has not stopped the rumour from spreading like wildfire.
Although it is prohibited to openly discuss the video in North Korea, it is known that the authorities have created a special unit from the Organization and Guidance Department, the Public Prosecutors’ Office, the MSS and other law enforcement agencies to identify the leak.
Kim Jong-un has not been seen since 11 April when he last presided over a politburo meeting. Since then, many have speculated that he has died following complications from heart surgery earlier in the month.
No one can say for sure whether this is true or not, as Kim was reported to have gone for heart surgery on 12 April, which many believe could have prompted him to miss a celebration in honour of his grandfather’s birthday at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.
This means that, although the media in North Korea is still reporting on the leader’s activities, it has not been able to release any recent photos or videos that prove he is alive.
If Kim Jong-un is in fact dead, it would beg the question of who would replace him. Many have already suggested that his sister Kim Yo Jong, who currently serves as the first deputy director of the North Korean communist party’s propaganda and agitation department, will now take over.
This could be a possibility as Jong-un’s own children are still too young to take over with the eldest, a girl, thought to be around 10 years old. But even though Yo Jong has the pure blood of the Kim family, is already a member of the government and clearly has the trust of her brother, it would be surprising for a traditionally male-dominated country such as North Korea to accept a woman as leader.
Other rumours mention Vice Chairman Choe Ryong-Hae, rumoured to be the father in law of Kim Yo Jong and Kim Jae-Ryong, the Premier of North Korea who has risen up through the ranks of government and assumed a high profile role in the military.
It is impossible for now to tell whether Kim Jong-un is still alive or not, just like it is impossible to predict who will take over if he is dead. Only time will tell.