North Korean media silent on Kim’s whereabouts as speculation on health rages
North Korean state media on Wednesday made no mention of new appearances by leader Kim Jong Un, a day after intense international speculation over his health was sparked by media reports he was gravely ill after a cardiovascular procedure. South Korean and Chinese officials and sources familiar with US intelligence have cast doubt on the South Korean and US media reports, while the White House said it was closely monitoring the matter.
US President Donald Trump, who held unprecedented summits with Kim in 2018 and 2019 in an attempt to persuade him to give up his nuclear weapons, said the reports had not been confirmed and he did not put much credence in them. “I just hope he’s doing fine,” Trump told a White House news conference on Tuesday. “I’ve had a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un. And I’d like to see him do well. We’ll see how he does. We don’t know if the reports are true.”
Asked whether he would try to reach out to Kim to check on his condition, Trump said: “Well I may, but I just hope he’s doing fine. Speculation about Kim’s health first arose due to his absence from the anniversary of the birthday of North Korea’s founding father and Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15. On Wednesday, the main headlines from KCNA included pieces on sports equipment, mulberry picking, and a meeting in Bangladesh to study North Korea’s “juche” or self-reliance ideology. Official Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried articles on a self-sufficient economy and anti-coronavirus measures.
There was no mention of Kim’s whereabouts. Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, reported late on Monday that Kim, who is believed to be about 36, was hospitalized on April 12, hours before the cardiovascular procedure. It said his health had deteriorated since August due to heavy smoking, obesity and overwork. Citing one unnamed North Korean source it said Kim was now receiving treatment at a villa in the Mount Myohyang resort north of the capital Pyongyang.
On Tuesday, CNN reported an unnamed US official saying that the United States was “monitoring intelligence” that Kim was in grave danger after surgery. However, two South Korean government officials rejected the CNN report and South Korea’s presidential Blue House said there were no unusual signs from North Korea. China, North Korea’s only major ally, also dismissed the reports. Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told Fox News the White House was monitoring the reports “very closely”.
“There’s lots of conjecture going around,” a senior Trump administration official said on condition of anonymity late on Tuesday when asked if there was confirmation of the reports. North Korea experts have cautioned that hard facts about Kim’s condition are elusive, but said his unprecedented absence from major celebrations for his grandfather’s birthday last week signals that something may have gone awry.