Since the health of North Korean leaders has been kept top secret for decades, Pyongyang’s sudden openness about Kim’s weight is attracting global attention. The United States and South Korea are watching developments around 37-year-old Kim, the leader of the world’s ninth nuclear power, with more interest than usual.
Speculation arose after state television showed Kim at a party meeting in early June. Experts at a news website specializing in North Korean news, NK News, indicated that Kim’s watch strap had been tightened. In official photos, the North Korean leader looked less bulging and less flabby. But Pyongyang has been silent about speculation that something is wrong with the North Korean leader.
Until last Friday. Then suddenly the residents were shown the interview with the emotional resident of the capital on the tightly controlled state channel KCTV. It was not said who he is. “The hearts of our people ached when we saw Kim’s gaunt appearance,” the man said. “Everyone said they had tears in their eyes.” And this state television broadcast the remarkable interview – which was observed internationally only on Monday – indicating that Pyongyang no longer considers weight loss a taboo.
Pyongyang could immediately put an end to speculation about Kim’s health by saying that he was on a diet and lost some weight. The lack of decision on this matter, according to some North Korean experts, indicates that the regime wants to use the matter for propaganda purposes. Kim recently acknowledged that the country’s food situation is “tense,” in part due to various storms.
And the country’s tight shutdown since last year to keep the coronavirus out hasn’t helped the already bad economy. “North Korea may be trying to convince people of the idea that Kim Jong Un is losing weight because he is striving to improve people’s lives,” North Korea expert Cheong Seong-chang of South Korea’s Sejong Institute told CNN.
Kim’s health is of paramount importance to the United States, South Korea and Japan as North Korea’s unpredictable nuclear arsenal continues to grow. South Korean intelligence agencies are analyzing any photo or video of Kim released by Pyongyang to prepare for instability in the neighboring country.
It is not at all clear who will take power in a North Korea armed to the teeth if Kim falls. Kim succeeded his father Kim Jong Il in 2011. Kim Jong Il was in turn succeeded by his father Kim Il Sung, the founder of the country, who died in 1994. Both of the deceased Kim were reported to have had heart problems.
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