Kim Jong Un has reemerged from his recent six-week disappearance. There has been much speculation in recent weeks over whether Jong Un’s disappearance could be attributed to recent injury or illness. The North Korean dictator, who was last seen publicly at a September 3 concert with his wife, appeared in images released by state media Tuesday smiling and supporting himself with a walking stick while he toured the newly built Wisong Scientists Residential District and another new institute in Pyongyang, as part of his regular observation tours. North Korean officials neither released details on when the visit occurred, nor did they address the leader’s health.
Jong Un’s return to the spotlight has helped to stem rumors that he was gravely ill, deposed, or incapacitated in some way. The North Korean leader’s disappearance had many questioning the stability of the country’s leadership and its vulnerability to overthrow.
Jong Un’s reappearance allowed the country’s propaganda machine to continue glorifying the third generation of Kim family rule. For the moment, it has also quelled rampant rumors of a coup and serious health problems. However, there continues to be much speculation over whether Jong Un’s disappearance could be attributed to recent injury or illness.
Prior to Tuesday’s appearance, Kim missed several high-profile events that he normally would have attended and was described in an official documentary last month as experiencing “discomfort.” There had been information released that suggested the North Korean dictator was injured during a military exercise in August 2014. Footage from August via various media outlets have supported that claim and showed the dictator as overweight and limping. Moreover, this footage also prompted the South Korean media to speculate he had undergone recent surgery on his ankle or leg. Furthermore, some experts have suggested that the dictator might be suffering from more serious health issues, such as diabetes, gout, or even a hereditary disease.
Media analysts contend that Jong Un probably broke his media silence to dispel outside speculation that he was not in control or vulnerable to a coup. Moreover, many political experts have suggested that it is also a tactic to win sympathy points from a domestic audience by creating the image of a leader who works through pain.
According to South Korean officials, it was the first time a North Korean leader allowed himself to be seen relying on a mobility device, such as a cane or walking stick. Kim Jong Il, who headed the previous communist regime and reportedly suffered from serious health issues including a stroke in 2008 and a heart attack in 2011, which subsequently killed him. Jong Un’s father was observed limping following the onset of his heath issues, but he never used a mobility device in public. The same was true of North Korea’s creator and Jong Un’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung. This element also added fuel to the speculation that more serious health issues may lie at the root of Jong Un’s mobility issues and subsequent withdrawal from the public spotlight in recent weeks. However, North Korean officials have not addressed this speculation point-blank.
As speculation continues over whether Jong Un’s disappearance could be attributed to recent injury or illness, Kim appeared in the recently released images to have lost a noticeable amount of weight compared to pictures from May. Moreover, experts have speculated that since Jong Un was holding a cane on his left side, he may have had surgery on his left ankle or leg.
For the time being, Kim’s public reappearance may have helped quell speculation in recent weeks over whether Jong Un’s disappearance could be attributed to recent injury or illness. However, the fact that North Korean officials have not addressed this speculation point-blank remained a major bone of contention and possible area of vulnerability for the reviled world leader.
By Leigh Haugh