According to three government officials familiar with the matter, U.S. and South Korean intelligence agencies are reportedly skeptical of reports that Kim is dead or seriously ill.
“We understand that chairman Kim Jong Un was in Wonsan this week,” said a South Korean official who asked for anonymity to address sensitive intelligence issues.
Another official said that Kim’s health is one of the best kept secrets in the north, but found that no government has evidence of his death.
Commercial satellite imagery posted on the 38 North website affiliated with the Stimson Center showed Kim̵
The train was absent on April 15.
“The presence of the train does not prove the whereabouts of the North Korean leader, nor does he give any indication of his health, but it does give weight to reports that Kim is in an elite area on the country’s east coast,” said Martyn Williams, Peter Makowsky and Jenny Stadt wrote in her report.
However, something strange is lost in the top secret state.
Thae Yong Ho, a former senior North Korean diplomat who emigrated to the south in 2016, said in a statement that it was “unprecedented” that Kim did not appear to lay a wreath at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where his grandfather and his bodies were buried Fathers are embalmed.
The fact that Kim has not been seen in public for two weeks is not unusual in itself and falls within the “normal range” of the North Korean leader’s absences, noted Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former North Korean US government open source intelligence analyst.
In fact, Kim disappeared from the public eye for three weeks between a New Year’s concert on January 25th and another event at Kumsusan Palace of the Sun for his father’s birthday. He then withdrew from the public for another 13 days before offering “instructions” for military training on February 28, according to state media reports.
“His absence from Kumsusan Palace on Kim Il Sung’s birthday was unusual, but that alone is not proof enough to say that Kim Jong Un is in trouble,” said Lee.
She added that since then, North Korea’s silence should not be over-interpreted. “North Korea is not responding to rumors about the leader’s health,” she said.
The Daily NK website reported for the first time that Kim was operated on in a hospital near Mount Myohyang on April 12 and was recovering in a nearby villa.
But it is very unlikely that Kim would have left the hospital and taken the train to Wonsan, over 150 miles away if he had been really seriously ill and there had been no reason to move his body across the country, if he had died and officials wanted to maintain secrecy.
The stake was increased dramatically when CNN reported to an unnamed US official that Washington was monitoring intelligence agencies, suggesting that Kim was “in great danger” after an operation. But officials in Seoul and Washington soon downplayed or disagreed with this report.
Reuters reported on Saturday that China had dispatched a team of medical experts to “advise” Kim, citing three unnamed sources. However, the news agency warned that it was “unable to immediately determine what the Chinese team’s trip signaled regarding Kim’s health. “
A Japanese magazine sparked the rumor mill by citing a single unnamed Chinese medical source that Kim was in a “vegetative state” after a failure, while a Hong Kong television manager published on social media that Kim was dead.
Kim is overweight and is often seen smoking. It would come as no surprise to discover that he had heart problems. The fact that his train appears to be traveling across the country recently, as well as other signs that he is in Wonsan, contradicts the notion that he is at the door of death.
Dong-a Ilbo, a South Korean newspaper, quoted a US official in Washington who said Kim had been walking around Wonsan.
For many experienced North Korea observers, this is not an unknown area.
There have been many false death reports over the years for all three North Korean leaders. Kim Jong Un had previously been in seclusion and missed important public events to come back later, noted Bruce Klingner, a former U.S. intelligence officer who now works for the Heritage Foundation.
“On the other hand, the official announcement two days later was the first time that US intelligence agencies and even the North Korean ministries knew of Kim Jong Il’s death in 2011,” Klingner said.
When Kim Jong Il had a stroke in 2008, Thae said that foreign ministry officials knew nothing for a whole week, even when official documents that required the guide’s approval were piling up.
It is also noteworthy that French doctors visited the North Korean head of state on this occasion, experts say, and it is far from clear that North Koreans would invite Chinese officials and doctors – and possibly Chinese interference – if a follow-up crisis really took place behind the scenes.
North Korea’s relationship with China is based more on tolerance and overlapping interests than real trust.
Indeed, experts, officials and diplomats say that concerns about the coronavirus pandemic are yet another plausible theory to explain Kim’s disappearance, especially if a senior official has contracted the virus or has come into contact with someone who has did this.
The regime has repeatedly underlined its deep concern about a possible outbreak of the coronavirus and completely closed its borders at the beginning of the outbreak.
A World Health Organization official told Voice of America this week that by April 17, 740, the new corona virus had been tested and all were not infected.
However, many health experts are skeptical, and Radio Free Asia reported that officials admitted that the virus had spread across the country when speaking to local organizations and neighborhood guards.
Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reported that Kim was apparently going through “voluntary isolation” in Wonsan, citing a senior Japanese government official, and quoted North Korean sources as saying he went there after one of his bodyguards found the virus. This is not what North Korea would ever publicly admit, especially because it insists that there are no cases of the virus.
In the meantime, there may have been no new photos of Kim in the North Korean state media for two weeks, but there is still no evidence that anything is wrong.
“Seasoned Korea observers guess,” We don’t know, we have to wait for confirmation, so have another drink, “said Klingner,” while those who are new to North Korea are picking up on the rumors and face value and panicking Loss of control. “of nuclear weapons.”
Hudson reported from Washington and Min Joo Kim from Seoul.