Kim Jong Un: No signs that North Korean leader is in grave danger, South says
But South Korea’s government played down the report.
“We have nothing to confirm regarding recent media reports about the health problems of Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea, and no atypical movement inside North Korea has been detected,” Kang Min-seok, a spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said in a statement.
Kim’s health has long been a concern due to his smoking and obesity.
There has been speculation the 36-year-old dictator might have suffered some kind of illness after he failed to attend celebrations for the birthday of his grandfather Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang last Wednesday, but information about his health is extremely hard to verify in the secretive state.
South Korean news website Daily NK reported late on Monday that Kim was recovering at a mountain villa after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure last week. It cited a single unidentified source.
The website, which was set up by North Korean defectors, said Kim had undergone surgery at a hospital in North Korea’s Hyangsan county on April 12, and was still receiving treatment. It said some doctors remained in attendance but others had already returned to Pyongyang.
Diplomats and officials in the region said there were no signs of unusual military activity at the border between North and South Korea, or at North Korean embassies around the world.
They also said reports about Kim’s health would be top-secret subjects inside North Korea and expressed surprise they could be leaked to U.S. officials.
Daily NK said Kim had been suffering cardiovascular problems since last August, which had been worsened by visits to North Korea’s sacred Mount Paektu late last year. It said Kim had left for the hospital after presiding over a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s politburo on April 11.
Kim has not been seen in public since then.
On April 12, Pyongyang fired several short-range missiles. That’s an event Kim might normally have attended, but the test was not reported on state media.
On April 15, he was not seen at unusually low-key celebrations to mark Kim Il Sung’s official birthday. At the time, experts said that could be because the regime wanted to avoid a huge crowd gathering during a coronavirus pandemic, or even because he was sending a signal about downplaying his grandfather’s legacy. But poor health was always a possibility.
At the very least, the reports are a reminder of the risks of instability if Kim were to die.
“Kim Jong Un’s poor health and premature death was always a wild card in potential NK scenarios,” tweeted Jung Pak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“At 36, Kim is obese & has a family history of heart disease. His reported ill health since summer might explain why his sister has been issuing statements in her own name in recent weeks.”
Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, represented her brother at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and is thought to be a key confidant of her brother. Last month she issued her first political statements in her own name.