Throughout the summer of 2021, North Korea observers noticed that Kim Jong-un was looking notably slimmer.
NK News reported in June 2021 that intelligence services were likely monitoring Kim’s health. If the weight loss was due to healthier living, that had the potential to strengthen Kim’s position. If it was due to illness, it likely meant the opposite.
“If [the sudden weight loss] is due to a health condition though, the jockeying for his succession may already be happening behind the scenes, and that volatility could be trouble for the outside world,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told NK News.
In October, ABC News quoted South Korean lawmakers who received an intelligence briefing that assessed Kim had lost about forty-four pounds and that the leader was likely not facing any major health issues. South Korean officials also said that persistent rumors of North Korea using a body double in Kim’s place were untrue. Last June, state media showed a comment by one North Korean describing the nation’s leader as “emaciated.”
Kim’s weight was in the news again this week.
According to The New York Post, North Korean state media recently released a propaganda video called “2021: A Great Victorious Year,” which depicted Kim struggling to walk down a flight of stairs. The video, rather than depicting the leader as weak, stated that he had “completely withered away” from hard work on behalf of his people. The propaganda video also described him as both “fatherly” and “motherly.”
“[Kim] showed us his fatherly side by doggedly braving snow, rain, and wind while taking on the fate of the nation and people like his own children,” the voiceover on the documentary said, as reported by the Post. Other than the “withered away” note, the video did not directly reference the leader’s weight loss.
A public appearance
According to Yonhap News Service, which cited the state-owned Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, made a public appearance this week on Lunar New Years Day. The appearance was Ri’s first in public since last September. The North Korean first lady at one point did not appear in public for an entire year. before resurfacing last February.
"The respected General Secretary warmly congratulated the audience and the artistes on the Lunar New Year’s Day, acknowledging the enthusiastic cheers,” KCNA said of the appearance, according to Yonhap.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.