Kim Jong-un: Chinese doctors 'dispatched to North Korea to check on leader's health'

25 April 2020, 08:57

Kim Jong-un's health has been the subject of conflicting reports in recent weeks
Kim Jong-un's health has been the subject of conflicting reports in recent weeks. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Chinese doctors have been dispatched to North Korea to advise on Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un's health, according to reports.

Speculation about the North Korean leader's health is circulating once again after South Korea played down reports that his health was "in grave danger" on Tuesday.

Mr Kim's absence from key events, including the celebration of his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung on 15 April, has raised questions over his wellbeing.

It is unclear what the delegation of Chinese doctors reportedly sent to the country would mean about the dictator's health.

A team led by a senior member of the Chinese Communist Party's International Liaison Department - the main Chinese body dealing with its neighbour - left Beijing for North Korea on Thursday, two out of three people familiar with the situation told Reuters.

The sources did not wish to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.

Some North Korean officials have reportedly contracted coronavirus
Some North Korean officials have reportedly contracted coronavirus. Picture: PA

A report in South Korean newspaper, The Dong-a Ilbo, says a US official saw him in Wonsan "walking on his own between 15 and 20 April."

“As some of Kim’s aids and high-ranking officials have contracted Covid-19, Kim seems to have left Pyongyang, which has a high population density, as a preventive measure,” the official added.

Separately, Hong Kong Satellite Television has reported that Mr Kim is dead but there is no confirmation of this. If he were to pass his sister could replace him.

Obtaining credible information about North Korean leaders is difficult, with even intelligence agencies sometimes getting things wrong about the inner circles of the country's government.

The Chinese liaison department could not be reached by Reuters for comment on Friday night.

Seoul-based website Daily NK reported earlier this week that Mr Kim was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure on 12 April - citing one unnamed source in North Korea.

However, South Korea's Yonhap news agency claimed the North Korean leader was not seriously ill, citing a government official.

An official within the Chinese liaison department also told Reuters the Supreme Leader was not believed to be critically ill.

These starkly contradicted a CNN article which claimed the dictator was in a fragile condition following the procedure on 12 April.

South Korean officials said they had detected no signs of unusual activity in North Korea.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump also cast doubt on rumours suggesting the leader was ill, saying: "I think the report was incorrect."

Speaking on Fox News, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “I don’t have anything I can share with you tonight, but the American people should know we’re watching the situation very keenly.”

However, he did not say whether he had been in contact with North Korean officials.

It is not believed that any health issues are related to coronavirus.

Both Mr Kim's predecessors sparked similar conjecture after missing important events during their reigns.

When the North Korean leader's father Kim Jong Il failed to turn up at a parade celebrating the country's 60th anniversary in 2008, rumours swirled that he was in poor health.

It later emerged that he had suffered a stroke, after which his health declined further until his eventual death in 2011.