October 10, 2014
Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, who has been absent from public view for more than a month, skipped an important annual ritual on Friday, a development likely to fuel further speculation about his whereabouts and even about his grip on power.
Friday was the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. Since taking over the top leadership position following the death of his father, the longtime ruler Kim Jong-il, in late 2011, Mr. Kim had marked the beginning of this important national holiday by leading top military and party officials to pay a midnight visit to the Kumsusan mausoleum in Pyongyang. By tradition, such a visit would have taken place at midnight Thursday.
But on Friday, the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency did not list Mr. Kim among the top officials who had paid tribute at the gigantic Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, where the mummified bodies of Mr. Kim’s father and his grandfather, the founding president of North Korea, Kim Il-sung, lie in state. The mausoleum is among the most sacred places in the country, which is ruled with a personality cult surrounding the Kim family, and a visit there during a national holiday is an important leadership ritual.
The North Korean news media made no mention of Mr. Kim’s absence on Friday. But the country’s main state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, provided a hint that he was ill: It carried an article saying that pro-North Korean figures from abroad had sent Mr. Kim baskets of flowers on the occasion of the party’s anniversary and that in the ribbons attached to the flowers, they wrote that they “wished for Marshal Kim Jong-un’s good health.”
Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at the research organization Sejong Institute in South Korea, said it was highly unusual for such ribbons to mention Mr. Kim’s health, rather than congratulating him on the party’s anniversary.
“Given that the ribbons carried exactly the same message, it was clear that the message was dictated by the party,” said Mr. Cheong. “Unlike his father, who used to keep his health problems secret, he is letting his people know so that he can win sympathy from them.”
When the North’s state-run Korean Central Television confirmed late last month that Mr. Kim was “not feeling well” and showed him limping during a visit to a factory in August, it cited that as an example of his hard-working style. North Korean television has occasionally shown Mr. Kim limping since July — a highly unusual move for North Korean media, whose coverage of the top leader is closely censored.
During the party anniversary last year, Mr. Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, also attended the performance of a national choir and the dedication ceremonies of new buildings. As of Friday evening, there was no report from the North of Mr. Kim’s having done anything similar this year.
But the North Korean news agency indicated that Mr. Kim remained in control, saying that a basket of flowers sent by him had been placed before the statues of his father and his grandfather.
On Friday, Rodong Sinmun carried a full front-page editorial calling for the “monolithic leadership” of Mr. Kim as “the only center” of power. The paper carried a large photo of Mr. Kim’s father and grandfather standing together on the front page, but no image of the current leader.
In Seoul, Lim Byeong-cheol, a government spokesman, said South Korea believed that Mr. Kim’s rule was “functioning normally.” He added that a delegation of top North Korean officials who visited the South on Saturday had relayed Mr. Kim’s greetings to President Park Geun-hye.
Speculation about Mr. Kim’s status has been growing in recent weeks, with the North Korean media having reported no public appearance by him since Sept. 3, when he was said to have attended a music concert. His father often disappeared from the public eye for weeks at a time. But this has been the longest such absence by Mr. Kim, who had appeared to be bolstering his youthful leadership with frequent visits to factories and farms.
While he was absent from public view, Mr. Kim continued his work, sending letters to young party cadets and workers, according to the North Korean media, which is, as usual, filled with hagiographical propaganda for Mr. Kim.
South Korean officials and analysts have said that the young and overweight North Korean leader may be suffering from health problems, such as gout or sciatica. His forebears were also overweight and were said to have ailments attributed to their luxurious lifestyles, such as diabetes. One Seoul-based website run by defectors from North Korea who said they had secret informers within the country recently reported that much of Mr. Kim’s daily duties had been taken over by his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, while Mr. Kim was going through extensive treatment, with the help of foreign doctors, for health issues caused by his “excessive eating and drinking.”
It is widely believed among outside analysts that Mr. Kim deliberately gained weight to resemble his late grandfather, a godlike figure among North Koreans. Mr. Kim, already rotund by the time he took power, has recently gained more weight, according to television footage from the North.
But on the Internet, bloggers went further, spreading rumors, with no corroborating evidence, that Mr. Kim, widely believed to be about 30, might have been sidelined by a coup engineered by old, disgruntled generals.
Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul, dismissed those rumors and said he believed that Mr. Kim’s trouble was “not political but orthopedic.” He said that the North Korean leader had reasons to want to show up on Friday, such as a need to dispel the rumors and show that he was in control.
“But there is also a chance that he won’t really bother to show up,” Professor Kim said before the ceremony. After all, this year was the 69th anniversary of the party, not the 70th, which North Korea is expected to mark with far bigger ceremonies than usual, including a military parade, as it did during the 60th and 65th anniversaries, he said.
Analysts cautioned that even if the leader did not make a midnight visit to the Kumsusan mausoleum this year, it should not be seen as too unusual. Mr. Kim’s father, during his rule, often skipped a visit to the mausoleum during the party anniversary.
But the longer Mr. Kim’s absence, the more elaborate and wild the rumors may become.
Mr. Cheong, the Sejong Institute analyst, saw no immediate challenge to the rule of Mr. Kim, who had engineered purges and reshuffles in the top military and party ranks to fill them with people loyal to him.
But an extended absence from public view, Mr. Cheong said, could spell trouble for Mr. Kim because some of the elite might see it as a sign his influence is weakening. In the North, leading visits to military units, farms and factories to give “on-site guidance” has been an important and highly visible way for the top leader to establish his authority.
“Kim Jong-un’s health problem can spawn unease inside the North Korean leadership and prompt them to respond more sensitively to the outside world,” Mr. Cheong said. “If that happens, they may shift to more bellicose stances, for instance, launching a long-range rocket or conducting its fourth nuclear test, in order to consolidate its internal solidarity.”
Kim Yo-jong was born on September 26th, 1987 according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Yo-jong
9 + 26 +1+9+8+7 = 60 = her life lesson = Foreign policy.
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