If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un isn’t sick, he must be dead — at least politically.
That’s the thinking behind a rash of rumors that the portly 31-year-old scion of the Hermit Kingdom’s founding communists has been toppled from power.
Kim hasn’t been seen in public in more than a month, and his absence from the Sept. 25 gathering of the rubber-stamp parliament injected adrenaline into Korea watchers’ speculation that he has been deposed by a palace coup.
Then a high-level delegation of Pyongyang officials made a surprise visit to the South Korean city of Incheon on Saturday, ostensibly to catch the closing ceremonies of the Asian Games in which North Korean athletes did their rogue country proud. The top-ranking visitor, purported No. 2 Hwang Pyong So, conveyed Kim’s “heartfelt greeting” to the South Korean officials with whom he met. That only served to ramp up media and academic speculation over why Pyongyang was making such a conciliatory gesture at this time.
South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae took advantage of the rare opportunity for firsthand information from the North in asking after the health of Kim after a North Korean television report last week that alluded to the leader being in “discomfort.”
“There is nothing wrong with the health of Secretary Kim,” Ryoo’s counterpart from Pyongyang, Workers’ Party secretary for Korean affairs Kim Yang Gon, told his host. Ryoo then told Sunday talk shows that ill health appeared not to be the reason for the leader’s prolonged absence from the public eye.
So what is the reason?
South Korean media, often as much in the dark about their northern brethren as more far-flung analysts, have reported that Kim suffers from gout, which might explain why he appeared to be limping the last time he was spotted in public on Sept. 3.