- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been conspicuously missing from the public eye since April 11. His absence at a major holiday on April 15 sparked rumours about fragile health and even death.
- On Monday, South Korea’s unification minister dismissed the speculation, saying the country had “enough intelligence to confidently say that there are no unusual developments” in North Korea.
- John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea, said leaders wouldn’t issue these types of statements “unless they’re really confident” Kim is alive, “because they’re going to look like fools if they turn out to be wrong.”
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On Monday, South Korean officials dispelled speculation that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in poor health.
At a closed-door meeting in Seoul, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said the South Korean government had “enough intelligence to confidently say that there are no unusual developments” that would offer evidence that Kim is in grave condition or dead after heart surgery, according to The Associated Press.
The minister didn’t specify which intelligence he was referring to.
Also on Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in reiterated his support for inter-Korean cooperation projects, including “a joint anti-coronavirus quarantine campaign,” the AP said. Moon also cited his “confidence” with the North Korean leader and “our firm resolve to [achieve] peace.”
John Delury, an American professor of East Asia studies at Yonsei University in South Korea, also flatly rejected the claims that Kim is unwell.
Speaking on the BBC’s “Newshour” on Monday, Delury said there was abundant hearsay but “very little evidence” to support such claims.
“Two weeks’ absence should give rise, certainly, to our attention,” he said, but “probably doesn’t merit the degree of speculation it’s receiving.”
Those rumours have been fuelled, at least in part, by reports of panic-buying in North Korea. But Delury said there was nothing connecting that to Kim’s health.
“I’m not sure that that is connected in any way with the health of the leader,” Delury told the BBC. “Bear in mind, you know, the same thing that the whole world is grappling with – this COVID pandemic – is also affecting North Korea. In fact, that could be ultimately the explanation for why Kim Jong Un is avoiding crowds.”
Kim has been out of the public eye for weeks
Rumours about Kim’s health were triggered by his absence at one of North Korea’s most celebrated holidays on April 15: the birthday of his grandfather and the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung.
In fact, Kim hasn’t been spotted in public since April 11, when he presided over a Politburo meeting.
Silence from the famously secretive country’s state media fanned the hype – at least until Monday, when reports emerged that Kim sent a thank-you note to workers and officials at a tourist resort construction site near where his personal train was recently spotted, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said.
South Korea has downplayed the rumours, saying that the North Korean leader was handling state affairs and that neither North Korea’s military nor its Workers’ Party had issued an emergency readiness order, which would occur in case something were to happen to Kim, the AP reported.
The rumours gained traction when a CNN report last Tuesday said Kim was in “grave danger.”
An unnamed US official told the AP on Monday that the intelligence community continued to view these revelations about Kim as “speculation.”
Delury stressed that South Korean officials wouldn’t issue statements about Kim’s health if they were uncertain about the issue.
“They’re not going to go that far out to say they’re pretty sure he’s fine, certainly that he’s alive, unless they’re really confident, because they’re going to look like fools if they turn out to be wrong,” he said.
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