Kim Jong-un and the mysterious disappearance

In this day and age, there is possibly only one country left in the world where it’s leader could mysteriously disappear for 20 days only to appear again smiling at the opening ceremony of a fertilizer plant. An obviously staged photo-op, but which seems to nevertheless confirm that Kim Jong-un is alive and well.

The past 3 weeks have been filled with speculation in the international media about the whereabouts and the health of the North Korean leader, going from unconfirmed rumors of his death to bizarre statements by President Trump that he both knew that Kim Jong-un was fine, while admitting to not knowing anything about him and just wishing him good health. The first ones to announce his death were TMZ, whose accuracy when it relates to similar news about Hollywood stars or US athletes can be mind-boggling, but who also have a tendency of publishing first and researching afterwards. The rumors were then copied by other gossip trigger-happy publications, while at the same time the major players where neither confirming, nor denying the rumors, but just mainly running with hypothetical scenarios of what was happening, where Kim Jong-un could be, what could be the causes of his disappearance and who would replace him if he indeed had passed away. At the same time some were reporting that Kim Jong-un was fine, but without providing any kind of proof or even a solid source to the information.

This is not the first time Kim Jong-un has disappeared. In 2014 he disappeared for 40 days, and when he resurfaced, he was using a walking stick, but without any official reason for the absence. Although we will probably never know the full truth about what exactly happened, it is likely that he had some kind of surgery on his foot. Back then, the rumor mill had been just as active as now, going from a political coup to surgeries, to assassination attempts.

Due to the very closed nature of the North Korean leadership and government, whenever something happens at the state level, the information is being kept under a lid, and only very few individuals have all the information. This is even true in the daily running of the country, as most people have no idea of the location of the Supreme Leader. This opens the door for all kinds of rumors and unverified leaks, but as most of them come from sources with only partial or limited information, it is often impossible to have a comprehensive understanding of what happened.

This time around the rumors started when Kim Jong-un was nowhere to be seen during the commemorations of the birthday of his late grandfather, North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung, on April 15th. This has been a very important anniversary for Kim Jong-un and his absence was a definite sign of something out of the ordinary. The lack of any official information from North Korea on this absence, started the series of unverified news stories about illness, surgeries and death. Some were speculating that maybe Kim Jong-un had decided to isolate himself in fear of a coronavirus infection, even though the official statement from the recluse state still is that the virus has not made it to North Korea and the official count of infections is at zero.

The interesting bit is that a lot of the speculation did not focus so much on the exact status of the Supreme Leader, but rather on what would happen if the rumors of his death were to be confirmed. There is no official succession plan for Kim Jong-un, and no one really knows how the next leader would come into power. Kim Jong-un himself took over from his father, but Kim Jong-un’s own children are believed to be between the ages of 3 and 10, so too young to take over for him at this point. One of the names that was circulated was Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo Jong, but some have expressed doubt that she would be able to take control of the heavily male-dominated society of North Korea. The government leadership in Pyongyang would possibly prefer a male option, possibly Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Kim Pyong Il who missed out on becoming Supreme Leader when his half-brother Kim Yong Il took the reins of the country in 1994. In any case this speculation can be put to rest for now as it seems that the North Korean leader is in good health right now.

We will for sure be hearing more theories in the coming weeks, if not an official statement, about Kim Jong-un’s whereabouts and health during the past three weeks. Will we ever know what really happened? Probably not, as there are certainly no signs that the North Korean state would be open about its inner workings. The country will  most certainly remain an oddity in our world of constant and often direct information flow, but at least the rumor mills will have grains to grind.

By I. Constantin

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