Mystery of Kim Jong-un's Whereabouts Deepens

  • By Kim Jin-myung, Kim Myong-song, Yang Seung-sik

    April 27, 2020 11:01

    North Korea has made no effort for the last two weeks to dispel rumors that leader Kim Jong-un is at death's door.

    Kim disappeared from the radar after a meeting on April 11 and has since been rumored to be in a coma after emergency cardiovascular surgery. He was conspicuously absent from an annual ceremony marking the birthday of nation founder Kim Il-sung, and over the weekend what appears to be his personal train was spotted on a satellite picture of Wonsan.

    As speculation ran riot, North Korea neither made an official statement nor published any picture of Kim that would set minds at rest.

    On Sunday, the official [North] Korean Central News Agency finally published a report claiming that Kim "thanked" construction workers at a new model town in Samjiyon in the northeast but published no pictures to go with it.

    This satellite image from April 23 shows what appears to be North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's personal train on standby at a railway station in Wonsan, Kangwon Province. /Courtesy of 38 North

    Rumors were fueled by a report in Japan's Asahi Shimbun that Song Tao, the head of the Communist Party of China's International Liaison Department, was in North Korea with around 50 medical experts. But the daily cautioned that there was no proof that the trip was related to Kim's health and may have had to do with combating a possible coronavirus epidemic in North Korea.

    Some North Korean defectors and experts have said that something clearly appears to be wrong with Kim's health, but they seem no better informed than any other bystanders.

    Kim is overweight and may suffer from hereditary cardiovascular diseases that also did for his father and grandfather. Other news reports speculate that Kim has gone into isolation due to coronavirus.

    The quarantine hypothesis is supported by the fact that China has not deployed a huge number of troops along its border with North Korea. If Kim was in critical condition and his grip on power was under threat, Beijing would have bolstered its military presence along the border to maintain stability in the buffer state. But in that event it might have been safer for Kim to stay in Pyongyang, which has better facilities than Wonsan.

    The website 38 North, which is dedicated to analysis of North Korea, spotted Kim's train parked in Wonsan since April 21, and the South Korean government last week said it believes Kim to be in Wonsan.

    38 North cautioned that the train's presence "does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader or indicate anything about his health." Kim has a luxury compound in Wonsan.

    Some news media have reported that Kim was spotted walking on a beach there, but that could be a stand-in or another portly person.

    Cheong Wa Dae and the Unification Ministry on Sunday insisted that "no unusual signs" like troop movements have been spotted in North Korea.

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