SEOUL, South Korea– North Korea is still sending letters and gifts to foreign leaders and domestic employees in the name of its leader, Kim Jong-un. Its news media brims, as normal, with panegyric propaganda proclaiming Mr. Kim’s leadership. South Korea reiterates that it has detected “nothing uncommon” in the North. President Trump has actually called “incorrect” and “phony” a report that Mr. Kim was “in severe danger” after surgical treatment.
All this has done little to stop the rumor mill churning about Mr. Kim’s health and the fate of the nuclear state– for the simple reason that North Korea has not reported a public look by its leader for 2 weeks. Nor has it reacted to lurid claims about his health.
The absence of real information from the hermetic country is generating widespread report mongering, leaving North Korean specialists, foreign officials and intelligence firms to parse through all of it for signs of the fact.
Depending on the news outlet or social networks post, Mr. Kim, believed to be 36, is recuperating after a minor health concern like a sprained ankle, or he is “in serious danger” after a heart surgery. Or he has actually become “brain dead” or remains in a “vegetative state” after a heart-valve surgery failed at the hands of an anxious North Korean cosmetic surgeon or among the doctors China dispatched to treat him. Or Mr. Kim is grounded with Covid-19 Where did he get it? From among those Chinese physicians.
One report circulating in South Korean messaging apps declares that after French medical professionals could not wake Mr. Kim from his “coma,” Kim Pyong-il, a half bro of Mr. Kim’s late daddy, took power with the assistance of pro-Chinese elites in Pyongyang, the North’s capital. It goes on to state that Mr. Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo-jong, has actually been detained while Beijing is secretly bargaining with Washington over the future of North Korea and its nuclear weapons.
Seoul has actually questioned the accuracy of the unofficial reports, while the South Korean news media appears to dismiss most of them as online rumors spreading out through Chinese social networks and beyond. But they can not be entirely overlooked, given that North Korea is so secretive that the world’s most effective intelligence agencies have been unable to penetrate Mr. Kim’s inner circles.
Mr. Kim last appeared openly on April 11, when he presided over a Politburo conference. Speculations about his health began swirling after Mr. Kim missed out on state events for his nation’s greatest holiday, the April 15 birthday of his grandpa and founder of North Korea, Kim Il-sung.
Rumors entered into overdrive after Everyday NK, a Seoul-based site counting on anonymous sources inside the North, reported on Monday that Mr. Kim was recuperating from heart surgical treatment performed on April12 The next day, CNN contributed to the frenzy, reporting that Washington was keeping an eye on intelligence that Mr. Kim was “in grave danger.” On Saturday, TMZ, a celebrity-news tabloid website in the United States, shrieked: “N. Korea totalitarian Kim Jong-un reportedly dead after messed up heart surgical treatment.”
More than when, Mr. Trump has actually wished Mr. Kim well if he indeed were ill.
” North Korea’s secrecy and our absence of reliable details develop a breeding ground for rumors,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of worldwide research studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “However his ongoing lack would be destabilizing as more individuals in and outside the country wonder if he is incapacitated or dead.”
In recent days, the South Koreans and their allies in Washington have actually scoured North Korea with the assistance of spy satellites and other resources for signs of Mr. Kim and preparations for rocket launches.
Their efforts led them to Wonsan, an east coast town where Mr. Kim’s household has a seaside substance complete with luxury yachts, Jet Skis, a horse track and a personal train station.
A train “most likely belonging to” Mr. Kim has been parked there because at least Tuesday, 38 North, a Washington-based website focusing on North Korea, reported on Saturday, mentioning business satellite images.
Wonsan is one of Mr. Kim’s favorite websites for missile tests. A South Korean report said on Saturday that the United States had actually spotted preparations for a missile test in Sondeok, farther up the east coast, where North Korea introduced missiles in August in 2015 and once again in March in Mr. Kim’s existence.
South Korean authorities independently say that Mr. Kim’s presence at a rocket test might be a tactical way to peaceful the speculation. North Korea has actually likewise utilized such preparations to keep its external foes guessing.
Mr. Kim’s sudden demise might create a power vacuum with far-reaching ramifications.
Over the decades, American and South Korean authorities have actually discussed top-secret contingency plans, including how to prevent the North’s nuclear weapons from falling under wrong hands, and what to do if Beijing sends troops into the North to stabilize its next-door neighbor, which has long served as a buffer in between China and American forces based in South Korea.
In this secretive society, any most likely follower to Mr. Kim amounts to a thinking game, even for outdoors experts who have spent their academic careers parsing the North.
Will it be his only sibling, Kim Yo-jong, who has just recently broadened her function in his federal government? What about Kim Pyong-il, who returned house last year after serving for decades as North Korea’s low-key ambassador to Eastern European countries?
Some predict a collective management to be led by Choe Ryong-hae, the No. 2 in government hierarchy. What if a yet-unknown however enthusiastic general engineered a putsch? How would North Koreans who have been trained to worship the Kim family respond?
” While North Korea’s next-door neighbors are bogged down in domestic politics throughout a global pandemic, U.S.-China relations are tense, and international companies are strained, the world isn’t well prepared for the death of Kim Jong-un,” Mr. Easley stated.
This is not the very first time Mr. Kim has actually disappeared from public view for weeks at a stretch or dealt with speculation about his health. But the unusual personality cult surrounding Mr. Kim– his bombast, obesity and even hairdo– make sure reports can take hold.
Authorities are careful not to quash the rumors outright, in part since their previous forecasts on the North have actually sometimes shown incorrect. Reporting on North Korea, too, has actually been strewn with oversights.
In 1986, a South Korean paper reported a “world scoop” declaring that Mr. Kim’s grandfather, then-President Kim Il-sung, died in an armed attack. A smiling Kim Il-sung resurfaced two days later on.
In 2014, Kim Jong-un vanished for more than a month, triggering rumors that he might have been deposed in a coup. North Korean media later showed him strolling with a walking cane after what South Korean intelligence called an ankle surgery.
In 2015, a North Korean defector declared that Mr. Kim ordered his own auntie to be killed with toxin. The aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, re-emerged in Pyongyang in January.
The reports can also turn out to be real.
In 2008, Mr. Kim’s daddy and predecessor, Kim Jong-il, was absent from view for months. South Korean analysts and the news media speculated, properly, that he had a stroke. He died three years later on.
A few of the most significant skeptics of the latest rumors are North Korean defectors themselves.
Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea, stated it was difficult to think that any reliable information about Mr. Kim’s health was dripped from his most trusted assistants. Mr. Thae stated that nobody in his workplace in the North Korean Foreign Ministry understood of Kim Jong-il’s death in 2011 up until they were collected at an auditorium for an “crucial statement” and saw a female announcer appearing on the TELEVISION screen, dressed in funeral black.
Joo Sung-ha, a North Korean defector-turned journalist for the South Korean paper Dong-A Ilbo, said in a Facebook post that it was reasonable to think that Mr. Kim had illness. But he had absolutely no rely on report detailing whether and why the North Korean leader dealt with a grave medical emergency.
Such details about “the health of the Kim family is the secret amongst tricks,” he stated, calling the people who claim to know “novelists.”