Earlier this year, Kim Jong-un disappeared from public view for several months, leading to international rumors that the North Korean leader was ill, or even that he had died. Kim, of course, emerged alive in early May, putting that particular speculation to an end.
Kim is alive, but during the coronavirus pandemic year of 2020, he has appeared in public less frequently than he typically does. The leader, in fact, didn’t make any public appearances for nearly a month, although he resurfaced for a Politburo meeting on November 15.
Per an NK News report, which cited state media reports, Kim and other officials discussed North Korean efforts to fight coronavirus, while also denouncing “anti-socialist” acts in North Korea’s education sector, including at the Pyongyang Medical College.
Per a Yonhap News Agency translation of the state media reporting, the Politburo meeting’s agenda included “COVID-19 and the state anti-epidemic situation and clarified the tasks for the Party, military and economic fields to further tighten the emergency anti-epidemic front.” Kim also emphasized, per Yonhap, “The need to keep a high alert, build a tight blocking wall and further intensify the anti-epidemic work, being aware of the important responsibility for the security of the state and the well-being of the people.”
NK News described the twenty-five-day period of inactivity as the fifth extended period out of the public eye for the North Korean dictator.
Additionally, recent reports have said that Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-Ju, has also not appeared in public for the majority of 2020, with her last reported appearance a Lunar New Year event in January. There are competing theories as to where Ri has been for most of the year, including that she is caring for her husband’s aunt, that she is concentrating on educating her daughter, or possibly that Ri is in ill health herself.
“It’s difficult to read into these events. Whenever Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a public appearance over a long period of time, many of us in the West have a habit of assuming something is either wrong with him or that his power is being challenged. It leads to speculation and rumor bordering on the comical, so I wouldn’t take too much notice into why he has been MIA,” Daniel DePetris, a fellow at Defense Priorities, told The National Interest in an email.
“As far as what was said, we can only assume that his primary focus remains on the coronavirus. There is no question Kim is trying to prepare for the incoming Biden administration, but his short-term priority right now is on the numerous challenges he faces domestically. I’m more interested in what he may say during the New Year than what he’s saying now.”
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to 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. Image: Reuters