North Korean state media have reported the first appearance of their leader, Kim Jong Un, in 20 days. Rumours and speculation surrounding the health of North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un have been spreading across the world. Questions were initially raised after Mr Kim had missed the nation’s most important ceremony on April 15: the commemoration of what would have been the founder of North Korea, Kim Il Sung’s, 108th birthday. Mr Kim has not missed a single commemoration of his grandfather since gaining power in 2011, prompting serious concerns over his health, with some rumours even suggesting his death. This caused anxiety around the international community as many fear the repercussions of such an event in a nuclear-capable country.
Many headlines have claimed that Mr Kim was gravely ill after undergoing heart surgery. However, the South Korean government has denied such reports, claiming there have been no indications from the North that he is unwell. Despite this, until their statement declaring his appearance on May 2, North Korean authorities in Pyongyang had neither denied nor confirmed such stories. He had not been seen since April 11 after chairing a political meeting, and state media had made no mention of Mr Kim attending a reported missile test in which he is usually present. Over a week later, a report emerged on the Daily NK, a website run by North Korean defectors, and claimed he had been suffering from cardiovascular difficulties since August 2019 which had “worsened”.
The UK and US have been closely monitoring the situation, and Chinese intelligence has claimed reports of Mr Kim being in critical condition are untrue. Dominic Raab, the UK’s Foreign Secretary, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr that he was aware of the reports but “could not confirm” if the North Korean supreme leader had died.
Journalists experienced great difficulty in attempting to verify reports due to the high levels of secrecy and mysteriousness surrounding North Korea. However, this was not the first time Kim Jong Un has vanished from the public eye. In 2014, rumours swirled which included speculation he had been ousted in a coup. However, these concerns were quickly vanquished after Mr Kim re-emerged 40 days later after reportedly suffering an “uncomfortable physical condition”.
Kim Jong Un’s 20 days of absence had prompted serious concern and angst around the international community, with increasing anxiety surrounding North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. Many fear what the future would look like should such rumours prove true, but the supreme leader’s emergence appears to have put such speculation to rest. However, the reports so far are solely coming from North Korean state media and have not been verified. It is unclear as to who would take over the role of leader should anything happen to Mr Kim. However, many continue to search for the truth and gain answers from a nation with a reputation for such secrecy and mystique.