A few weeks ago, conflicting reports emerged calling the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un into question. He was in bad shape — and potentially at death’s door in a vegetative state — after undergoing heart surgery, according to intelligence-community sources within the Trump administration. Other sources said the obese, 36-year-old heavy smoker was at a Wonson resort recovering from a cardiovascular operation. Some analysts, and a South Korean government official, said the reports were wrong. All of the speculation highlighted the fact that Kim had failed to appear at a parade for his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, on April 11. Then a week ago, publications like TMZ reported that Kim was straight-up dead, according to an unverified Japanese media report and chatter on Chinese social media about a medical team that had been sent to the country to help the ailing leader.
The lack of a new or recent picture was worth thousands of words. Amid all the speculation regarding the fate of Kim, whom no one had seen in weeks, articles came out examining who would take over the world’s most troublesome nuclear power if he were dead, President Trump teased knowing something about the leader’s health, and some experts on the regime concluded something was afoot — while others shook their heads. And as often happens with news regarding North Korea, satellite images have been examined for clues — like where Kim’s train was parked or what the deal was with his leisure boats. Even people in Pyongyang were apparently wondering what was up, for as Intelligencer contributor Heather Hurlburt noted earlier this week, “rumors about the demise of [North Korea’s] leaders are a national tradition.” The real problem North Korea faced, she argued, was the coronavirus — and no one really knows how bad the pandemic has affected the impoverished, isolated nation. Indeed, another theory regarding Kim’s whereabouts was that the leader was just hiding out to avoid catching COVID-19.
Whatever reason Kim was out of sight, it was not because he had shuffled off his mortal coil, if the allegedly new images of the leader at a fertilizer-factory ribbon-cutting on May 1, which were released by North Korean state media on Saturday, are to be believed:
One image even featured a very conspicuous date, because that’s how they do life-confirming propaganda in North Korea:
Regarding the reception the leader was alive to hear at the ceremony, the North Korean media report twice mentioned “thundering cheers.” But there was no video. And for anyone who has enjoyed following the case of the missing Kim, it’s still not clear why he skipped his grandfather’s parade — and new photos mean new clues to decipher: