SEOUL – South Korea’s government has dismissed rumors that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is in fragile condition, as speculation about his health intensifies amid the North’s silence on his whereabouts.
There are concerns, particularly in Seoul and Washington, about what would happen to North Korea and its nuclear program if anything actually happened to Kim. For South Korea and the U.S., Kim’s absence would mean the departure of a man they’ve dealt with over the past two years to try to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization, though talks have stalled in recent months.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul told a closed-door forum in Seoul that South Korea has “enough intelligence to confidently say that there are no unusual developments” in rival North Korea that would back up speculation about Kim’s health, his ministry said Monday.
The minister would not reveal at Sunday’s forum what specific intelligence led to that conclusion, but he stressed that it was reached after a thorough analysis.
His comments are a reiteration of earlier South Korean statements that Kim Jong Un appeared to be handling state affairs normally and that no unusual activities had been detected in North Korea. Those comments, however, failed to dispel the rumors about Kim, partly because past outside intelligence reports on developments in North Korea have sometimes turned out to be wrong.
The rumors about Kim’s health began to swirl after he missed the April 15 commemoration of the 108th birthday of his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung. Kim Jong Un is the third generation of his family to rule North Korea, and he hadn’t missed the event, one of the most important in the North, since assuming power after his father, Kim Jong Il, died in late 2011.
North Korea’s state media has since made no mention of Kim’s health or his public activities, though they said he had received some messages of greeting from foreign countries. On Monday, North Korea’s state TV said Kim sent his thanks to workers and officials at a tourist resort construction site on the east coast.
As the absolute leader of a country with a nuclear weapons program, Kim’s health is a matter of intense interest both regionally and globally. If something were to happen to Kim, it could lead to instability in North Korea.