Is Kim Jong Un in ‘grave danger’ after undergoing cardiac surgery?

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is allegedly in ‘grave danger’ after undergoing previous heart surgery, while South Korea claims he appears to be handling state affairs as usual.

According to Mail Online, South Korea said there were no ‘unusual movements’ around their neighbor. They also insist that Kim Jong-un was thought to be with his aides near Pyongyang, not recovering at a villa, as some reports had stated.

The North Korean leader’s health raised fears after CNN cited an unnamed US official, claiming that Washington was monitoring intelligence that he was in a critical condition. Moreover, the outlet Daily NK, which is run mostly by North Korean defectors, stated that Kim Jong-un had undergone a cardiovascular procedure and was recovering at a villa in North Phyongan province.

On the contrary, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency cited a government official explaining that the reports about the dictator’s critical condition were ‘not true’.

Image credits: AP

April 11th was the last time Kim Jong-un was seen at a government meeting. He was also mysteriously absent from the celebration of his late grandfather Kim Il-sung’s birthday four days later. If fears of the leader being in grave danger were to prove true, it is still unclear what would happen next, and who would take his place. However, his sister, Kim Yo-jong is among the senior politicians who could be in line.

The presidential Blue House of South Korea stated:

“We have no information to confirm regarding rumors about Chairman Kim Jong-un’s health issue that have been reported by some media outlets. Also, no unusual developments have been detected inside North Korea.”

Furthermore, they claimed the North Korean dictator was believed to be staying at an unspecified location outside of Pyongyang with some of his close confidants. However, Kim Jong-un appeared to be engaged with state affairs as usual.

Additionally, Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said that Beijing was aware of reports about the health of the supreme leader. But since they are not sure of the authenticity of the source, they refuse to comment on whether they have any information about the situation.

On the other hand, the Associated Press contacted a different US official who claimed that the White House was already informed of fears about Kim’s condition before the latest reports surfaced on Monday night. Moreover, the official said the US received data that the North Korean dictator may have undergone surgery and that complications may have rendered him ‘incapacitated or worse’. But similar to the Chinese ministry, the US had nothing to confirm whether the surgery had taken place or that any complications had occurred.

As per Daily NK, after getting the procedure on April 12th, Kim was recovering at a villa in the Mount Kumgang resort county of Hyangsan.

They also claim that due to heavy smoking, obesity, and overwork, their leader’s health has deteriorated in recent months. However, the Unification Ministry, which deals with inter-Korean affairs, couldn’t confirm the Daily NK report citing unknown sources that Kim was recovering from heart surgery in the capital Pyongyang and that his condition was improving.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the regime has implemented even stricter limitations than usual. Although there are no confirmed coronavirus cases in North Korea, some reports suggest that authorities had admitted in public lectures that the virus was spreading in the country.

In case the dictator can no longer execute his duties as a leader of North Korea, there would likely be a power struggle in the country because Kim Jong-un has not specifically named a successor.

Amongst the expected candidates for Kim’s position are his sister, Kim Yo-jong, and the Chairman of the Organization and Guidance Department, Choe Ryong Hae, as reported by NK News.

Image credits: AFP

The first time speculations about Kin Jong-un’s health appeared was on April 15th.

Kim missed the celebration of his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday for the first time since he became the country’s leader in 2011. Therefore, many questions about his condition amid the coronavirus pandemic have been raised.

Similarly, in 2014, Kim Jong-un disappeared for six weeks, when according to the South’s spy agency, he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

Martyn Williams, associated with the 38 North research website tweeted:

“No-one knows what’s going on inside North Korea. Kim Jong Il had been dead several days before it was announced and it took everyone by surprise. Kim Jong-un has been ‘missing’ before, and has always reappeared. That said, his absence this week was more notable.”

However, political analysts reckon that through his absence, Kim was actually sending a message that he wants to step away from the ‘cult of personality’ surrounding the ruling dynasty.

Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and researcher in Seoul, told the AFP:

“Kim Jong-Un wants to break away from the past, as well as the North’s traditional cult of personality. His message is that Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung’s times are now over. He wants to come across and brand himself as a leader who is modern and competent, rather than a descendant of his predecessors. And he wants to gradually tone down the idolization of the two late leaders as it goes against his agenda to brand the North as a ‘normal state’.”

What’s more, due to the major coronavirus outbreaks in South Korea and China, the North Korean leader may have been advised to stay away from public gatherings, even though Pyongyang’s claims that his country has zero COVID-19 cases.

Nonetheless, there is no indication that Kim Jong-un had contracted the deadly respiratory disease.

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