While part of the propaganda machine within North Korea thrives on presenting their country and leader as strong, powerful, and unconquerable, the recent absence of the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has many people asking what is happening with the supreme leader?
The last time Kim was seen in public was at the beginning of September when the leader was seen at a concert with his wife within the “hermit kingdom.” Since then, Kim has missed several high profile events, according to Chron, and the absence of Kim’s media presence has led many to speculate on his disappearance.
One theory is the leader has been ousted from power by way of a coup, and an image showing a bloody Kim being seemingly dragged out of a hallway was said to be “evidence.” However, this theory was proven false as the urban legend and rumour website Snopes pointed out the image in question was a near identical photo to one captured a few years ago while Kim visited a unit of the Korean People’s Army.
Health problems are a more plausible explanation for the leader’s absence, but what kind of health problems?
Gout, diabetes, a heart ailment, mental illness, a leg injury, and a brain hemorrhage, are all reasons people have said Kim has been absent, but none are confirmed. One North Korean lawmaker even asked Amd. Choi Yoon-hee, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in North Korea, if Kim was brain dead. Choi promptly said there were no problems with Kim “severe enough to disrupt his status as ruler of the country.”
In fact, North Korea’s UN ambassador, Hyan Hak Bong, told the BBC Kim was healthy and there was no reason to worry about his health, despite North Korean media reports in early September saying Kim was suffering “discomfort.”
While the world is questioning Kim’s absence from the media, Scott Snyder, an expert on Korea who has been working with the Council on Foreign Relations, says the cult of personality established within the country is so strong, “the people feel Kim’s presence even when he is absent.”
Kim currently has no known heir, and the line of succession has followed the Kim family since Kim Il-sung ceased power in 1948. This has led some to say Kim is indeed ill and his sister, Kim Yo-jong, has been acting with Kim’s voice.
What is strange though is in Kim’s absence, a three-man delegation was sent to Seoul, accompanied by a personal message to South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye, with the intention of opening North-South dialogue. So if Kim is currently unable to make decisions from health ailments, or is incapacitated in some way, who is trying to open these dialogues?