North Korea leader Kim Jong-Un hasn’t been seen in public since early September, leading to intense media speculation that a shakeup or even a coup could be taking place in one of the world’s most opaque and repressive states. But South Korean officials do not see Kim’s absence as significant, Barbara Demick reports for The New Yorker.
Demick, the author of a critically lauded book about daily life in North Korea, writes that the South Korean officials who deal most closely with the country’s northern neighbour aren’t terribly concerned with the current situation:
Scott Snyder, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations, who was in Seoul last week, told me that South Korean officials at the Ministry of Unification, which handles relations with the North, also attached no particular significance to Kim Jong-un’s absence … As for the suggestion that Kim Jong-un is no longer in charge, Snyder said, “these are the usual low-credibility rumours.”
Rumours have circulated throughout the media, suggesting scenarios ranging from Kim suffering from gout to the possibility that he’s been overthrown in an internal coup and subsequent power struggle.
The basis for all of these rumours stem from the fact that Kim has not been seen in public since the beginning of September. But this is not the first time that a North Korean leader has disappeared for significant periods of time, which perhaps explains South Korea’s apparent lack of alarm.
During the rule of Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Un’s grandfather, the North Koreans even faked the death of Sung in order to gauge the international community’s response.
Subsequently, there are no external indicators that a coup has transpired within North Korea. Geo-political tremors that would indicate a coup, such as military buildups along the Chinese and South Korean borders with North Korea, have not taken place.
Of course, given the closed-off nature of the Hermit Kingdom, there’s little way to confirm any kind of speculation into the on-the-ground realities of North Korea. But ongoing health issues offer perhaps the most likely explanation for Kim’s over month-long absence.
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