North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un Makes First Public Appearance Amid Health Concerns

OPINION | This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un has reportedly made his first public appearance in 20 days, an absence that caused media outlets around the world to speculate the worst about his health.

Outlets from the United States and Japan reported Jong-Un was “brain dead” or in a vegetative state following a botched cardiac procedure but his presence at a ceremony Friday in Sunchon refutes these reports.

According to ABC News, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency first reported Jong-Un’s appearance at the ceremony.

From ABC News:

State media showed videos and photos of Kim wearing a black Mao suit and constantly smiling, walking around facilities, applauding, cutting a huge red ribbon with a scissor handed by his sister, and smoking inside and outside of buildings while talking with other officials.

Seemingly thousands of workers, many of them masked, stood in lines at the massive complex, roaring in celebration and releasing balloons into the air. A sign installed on a stage where Kim sat with other senior officials read: “Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory; Completion Ceremony; May 1, 2020.”

There was no definite sign that Kim was in discomfort, although there were moments where his walking looked a bit stiff. He was shown moving without a walking stick, like the one he used in 2014 when he was recovering from a presumed ankle surgery. However, he was also seen riding a green electric cart, which appeared similar to a vehicle he used in 2014.

The Korean leader’s appearance was his first since April 11, when he met with governmental officials on the coronavirus. At that meeting, he reappointed his sister “as an alternate member of the powerful decision-making Political Bureau of the party’s Central Committee.”

Just four days after the meeting, on April 15th, Jong-Un was uncharacteristically absent from his grandfather’s birthday celebration, the country’s largest holiday.

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“It wasn’t immediately clear what had caused Kim’s absence,” ABC News reports.


Some experts say South Korea, as well as its regional neighbors and ally Washington, must begin preparing for the possible chaos that could come if Kim is sidelined by health problems or even dies. Worst-case scenarios include North Korean refugees flooding South Korea or China, or military hard-liners letting loose nuclear weapons.

“The world is largely unprepared for instability in North Korea,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Washington, Seoul and Tokyo need tighter coordination on contingency plans, while international organizations need more resources and less controversy over the role of China.”


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