Generalissimo Francisco Franco may still be dead, but apparently not so for North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un. After weeks of complete silence and rumors of his failing health or even death, the diminutive dictator showed up at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a fertilizer plant (of all things), acting for all the world as if nothing had happened and it was just another day at the office. Interestingly, he brought his sister, Kim Yo Jong with him after officially appointing her to the political bureau of the Worker’s Party central committee. (Associated Press)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days as he celebrated the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang, state media said Saturday, ending an absence that had triggered global rumors that he was seriously ill.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim attended the ceremony Friday in Suncheon with other senior officials, including his sister Kim Yo Jong, who many analysts predict would take over if her brother is suddenly unable to rule.
Neither the KCNA nor the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper immediately released photos online from the ceremony.
So what’s been going on for the past few weeks? We have no idea because Kim isn’t saying and the reporters at the country’s state-run media outlets know better than to bring up sensitive topics like that. (Angering Kim Jong-un can famously be bad for your career as well as your health.)
It seems quite likely that he was battling some sort of health issue, but Kim doesn’t like to see any headlines that might make him appear weak. He was reportedly walking around fairly normally without the use of a walking stick. But part of the time, he was also seen riding a small electric cart of some sort. If he really did have some sort of heart surgery, there’s probably been enough time for him to recover by now. Alternately, he might have come down with COVID-19. Given his weight, smoking habits and generally poor health, that would have been a touchy situation.
We’re still not hearing anything about Kim having put an official succession plan in place against his eventual demise. Perhaps he fears that discussing such things will provoke rumors about his failing health. But that brings us back to the fact that Kim Yo Jong joined him for this public ceremony. When we previously discussed what might happen if the Dear Leader suddenly showed up at room temperature, one possibility on the table was that his sister might take power. But if too many of the warlords from the various factions around the country aren’t willing to have a woman in charge, that could lead to massive civil unrest and perhaps even a collapse of the central government.
For the time being, however, we appear to have returned to the status quo. Negotiations with Washington are still stalled, North Korea is back to working on missiles and tactical weapons and China is growing increasingly nervous. At this point, all we’re really waiting for is to see Godzilla rising up from the ocean and smiting a few cities.