Anna Fifield, Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post newspaper and author Kim biography “The Great Successor”, said Pyongyang appeared keen to show the dictator was still in running the country. She said the regime was publishing letters supposedly written by Kim but was reluctant to release any new photos.
The regime appears to be trying to show that he’s still in charge but not camera-ready
Ms Fifield tweeted: “North Korea continues to put out letters in Kim Jong-un’s name – but still no photos.
“This suggests (only suggests, we still have no confirmation) to me that he’s alive but sick/recovering.
“The regime appears to be trying to show that he’s still in charge but not camera-ready.”
The last time official media in North Korea reported on Kim’s whereabouts was when he presided over a meeting on April 11, but there have been near-daily reports of him sending letters and diplomatic messages.
The latest letter from Kim distributed by aides was a message of support to South African president Cyril Ramaphosa in recognition of his country’s Day of Freedom national holiday.
Ms Fifield’s theory was backed by North Korea analyst Martyn Williams who said: “Agreed. These are a great way to signal he’s still around and doing things.
“As a bonus, they don’t normally supply images with this type of story so the lack of images isn’t unusual.”
Speculation about Kim’s health erupted after his unprecedented absence from April 15 celebrations to mark the birthday of his late grandfather and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
But, some Western observers now believe fear catching coronavirus could be behind his disappearance.
South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees engagement with North Korea, said it was plausible Kim decided against attending the April 15 event due to the coronavirus, given stringent steps his government has taken to head off an outbreak.
He said: “He had never missed the anniversary for Kim Il-sung’s birthday since he took power, but many anniversary events including celebrations and a banquet had been cancelled because of coronavirus concerns.
“I don’t think that’s particularly unusual given the current coronavirus situation,” the minister said, although North Korea has claimed it has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
A US intelligence source said credible reports to Washington suggested the reason Kim’s presidential train had been spotted near a presidential retreat at the resort of Wonsan last week was that Kim had been staying there to avoid catching the virus.
He said US government experts lacked categorical evidence to prove this, but were for the most part dismissing media reports suggesting that Kim had contracted some kind of serious illness.
Kim Yeon-chul described reports that Kim had undergone a heart procedure, and that a Chinese medical team had travelled to North Korea, as “fake news.”
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A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Washington’s view was largely in line with the South Korean minister’s assessment.
Donald Trump said he had a good idea of how Kim Jong-un was doing and hoped he was fine, but would not elaborate.
He said: “I don’t want to comment on it. I just wish him well.”
North Korea has responded to the global coronavirus pandemic by cancelling some large events and imposing a border lockdown and quarantine measures but has kept the true impact of the crisis under wraps.
Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea, said: “If Kim Jong-un is hiding out due to fears surrounding COVID-19, it would puncture a hole in the state media narrative of how this crisis has been perfectly managed.
“If he is merely trying to avoid infection, it should theoretically be very easy to release photos or videos of a healthy looking Kim.”
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