On Monday night, CNN reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is in “grave danger” following a surgery, according to a U.S. intelligence source that spoke with the network. On April 15, the 36-year-old dictator had missed a parade for his grandfather, the founder of North Korea Kim Il-Sung. Kim last appeared on state media on April 11.
A South Korean media report stated that Kim — who is obese and is reportedly a heavy smoker, two co-morbidities for heart disease — had undergone a cardiovascular procedure earlier this month. According to CNBC, a site run by North Korean defectors “cited unidentified sources inside the isolated state saying Kim is recovering at a villa in the Mount Kumgang resort county of Hyangsan on the east coast after getting the procedure on April 12 at a hospital there.”
According to the Associated Press, the South Korean government is now looking into the reports, though the Unification Ministry and National Intelligence Service has not confirmed any information about Kim’s health. According to Bloomberg News reporter Jennifer Jacobs, the Trump administration has received information that Kim had “heart surgery last week and if he’s alive, his health is poor.” A second intelligence official has also told CNN that “concerns about Kim’s health are credible but the severity is hard to assess.”
While the death or incapacitation of the North Korean dictator could create a power struggle — Kim has no known heir, though it has been reported that he may have as many as three children — it is notoriously difficult to obtain accurate information from north of the 38th parallel, even in pre-pandemic times. (As of late March, the politburo claimed the country had no coronavirus cases, though its porous border with China and crumbling infrastructure suggest that would be an impossibility.) In 2014, there was much speculation surrounding Kim Jong Un’s disappearance for over a month. But he came back to public life using a cane, and South Korean intelligence reported that he had a cyst removed from his ankle.
“It’s easy to be wrong on this one,” said John Delury, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, told CNN. Already, there are conflicting reports: A South Korean government official has told Reuters that news of “Kim’s grave illness was untrue.”
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.