South Korea plays down reports that Kim Jong-un's health is 'in grave danger'

21 April 2020, 10:21

There are several conflicting reports regarding Kim Jong-un's health
There are several conflicting reports regarding Kim Jong-un's health. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Reports that North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is in "grave danger" after surgery have been played down by a South Korean official.

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

A separate report by Daily NK, a Seoul-based speciality website, wrote that Mr Kim was recovering from heart surgery in the North's capital Pyongyang, adding that his condition was improving.

An official within the Chinese Communist Party's International Liaison Department also told Reuters the Supreme Leader is not believed to be critically ill.

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

The report cited an anonymous US official with direct knowledge of the matter, who said Washington was “monitoring intelligence” regarding Mr Kim's health.

North Korea's Supreme Leader reportedly underwent cardiovascular surgery
North Korea's Supreme Leader reportedly underwent cardiovascular surgery. Picture: PA

However, on Tuesday, the South Korean government said no unusual activity had been detected in the North, following the unconfirmed reports.

Speculation about his well-being was raised after he missed the celebration of his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung on 15 April, the country's most important holiday.

Mr Kim had been seen four days prior to the event at a government meeting.

Both his 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.

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.

CNN quoted Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and former CIA deputy division chief for North Korea, regarding the rumours over Mr Kim's health.

"There have been a number of recent rumours about Kim's health (smoking, heart, and brain)," the network quoted Mr Klingner as saying.

"If Kim is hospitalised, it would explain why he wasn't present on the important April 15th celebrations.

"But, over the years, there have been a number of false health rumours about Kim Jong-un, or his father. We'll have to wait and see."

Kang Min-seok, the spokesman of Seoul's Blue House, South Korea's executive building, said: “We have no information to confirm regarding rumours 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.”