North Korean media silent on Kim's whereabouts as speculation on health rages

North Korean state media on Wednesday made no mention of leader Kim Jong-un's health or whereabouts, a day after intense international speculation over his health was sparked by media reports he was gravely ill after a cardiovascular procedure.

South Korean and Chinese officials and sources familiar with US intelligence have cast doubt on the South Korean and US media reports, while the White House said it was closely monitoring the matter.

US President Donald Trump, who held unprecedented summits with Kim in 2018 and 2019 in an attempt to persuade him to give up his nuclear weapons, said the reports had not been confirmed and he did not put much credence in them.

"I just hope he's doing fine," Trump told a White House news conference on Tuesday. "I've had a very good relationship with Kim Jong-un. And I'd like to see him do well. We'll see how he does. We don't know if the reports are true."

Asked whether he would try to reach out to Kim to check on his condition, Trump said: "Well I may, but I just hope he's doing fine."

19 PHOTOS
Trump meets Kim Jong-Un in DMZ
See Gallery
Trump meets Kim Jong-Un in DMZ
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (Susan Walsh/AP)

The US president briefly crossed the border as he renewed ties after previous meetings in Singapore and Vietnam.

President Donald Trump views North Korea from the Korean Demilitarized Zone from Observation Post Ouellette at Camp Bonifas in South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019 with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
A cap showing letters of Panmunjom and Demilitarized Zone, is placed at a souvenir shop at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday he believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to meet for a handshake at the Demilitarized Zone separating the North and South, a day after issuing the unprecedented invitation and expressing willingness to cross the border for what would be a history-making photo op. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
The US president briefly crossed the border as he renewed ties after previous meetings in Singapore and Vietnam.
Donald Trump y Kim Jong-un
The US president briefly crossed the border as he renewed ties after previous meetings in Singapore and Vietnam.
South Korean people watch a live broadcast on a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Seoul
El presidente Donald Trump estrecha la mano del líder norcoreano Kim Jong Un mientras ambos posan para los fotógrafos en la zona desmilitarizada entre ambas Coreas, el domingo 30 de junio de 2019. (Foto AP/Susan Walsh)
President Donald Trump made his first visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone on Sunday for a historic meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un.
President Donald Trump, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands following their news conference at the Blue House in Seoul, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
With grins and handshakes, President Donald Trump welcomed North Korea's Kim Jong Un at the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone Sunday, seeking to revive talks on the pariah nation's nuclear program in a bid for a legacy-defining accord. Trump then became the first American leader to step into North Korea.The brief photo-op, another historic first in the yearlong rapprochement between the two technically warring nations, marks a return to face-to-face contact between the leaders since talks broke down during a summit in Vietnam in February. But it does little to erase significant doubts that remain about the future of the negotiations and the North's willingness to give up its stockpile of nuclear weapons.Trump's brief crossing into North Korean territory marked the latest milestone in two years of roller-coaster diplomacy between the two nations, as personal taunts of "little rocket man" and threats to destroy the other have been ushered out by on-again, off-again talks, professions of love and flowery letters."It's a great honour to be here," Trump said, "It is a great day for the world." Kim hailed the moment, saying of Trump, "I believe this is an expression of his willingness to eliminate unfortunate past and into a new future."Peering into North Korea from atop Observation Post Ouellette, Trump told reporters that there has been "tremendous" improvement since his first meeting with the North's leader in Singapore last year.Trump claimed the situation used to be marked by "tremendous danger" but "after our first summit, all of the danger went away."But North has yet to provide an accounting of its nuclear stockpile, let alone begin the process of dismantling its arsenal.The meeting at the truce city of Panmunjom also represented a striking acknowledgement by Trump of the authoritarian Kim's legitimacy over a nation with an abysmal human rights record.Trump's summit with Kim in Vietnam earlier this year collapsed without an agreement for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. He became the first sitting U.S. president to meet with the leader of the isolated nation last year, when they signed an agreement in Singapore to bring the North toward denuclearization.___Follow Miller on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@zekejmiller and Lemire at http://twitter.com/@JonLemireZeke Miller And Jonathan Lemire, The Associated Press
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (centre L) meets with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in (C) as US President Donald Trump (centre R) look on south of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
El presidente estadounidense Donald Trump y el líder norcoreano Kim Jong Un en la zona de demarcación entre las dos Coreas el 30 de junio de 2019 en Panmunjom
Support helicopters follow the Marine One helicopter carrying President Donald Trump to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) as they take off from Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)
President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. It's their third meeting.
US President Donald Trump steps into the northern side of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, as North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un looks on, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Speculation about Kim's health first arose due to his absence from the anniversary of the birthday of North Korea's founding father and Kim's grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15.

On Wednesday, the main headlines from KCNA included pieces on sports equipment, mulberry picking, and a meeting in Bangladesh to study North Korea's "juche" or self-reliance ideology. The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried older or undated remarks attributed to Kim in articles about the economy, the textile industry, city development, and other topics.

As usual Kim's name was plastered all over the newspaper, but there were no reports on his whereabouts.

Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, reported late on Monday that Kim, who is believed to be about 36, was hospitalised on April 12, hours before the cardiovascular procedure.

The story's English version carried a correction on Tuesday to say the report was based on a single unnamed source in North Korea, not multiple as it earlier stated.

It said his health had deteriorated since August due to heavy smoking, obesity and overwork, and he was now receiving treatment at a villa in the Mount Myohyang resort north of the capital Pyongyang.

'EXTENDED SILENCE IS UNUSUAL'

On Tuesday, CNN reported an unnamed US official saying that the United States was "monitoring intelligence" that Kim was in grave danger after surgery.

However, two South Korean government officials rejected the CNN report and South Korea's presidential Blue House said there were no unusual signs from North Korea. China, North Korea's only major ally, also dismissed the reports.

Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, told Fox News the White House was monitoring the reports "very closely".

"There's lots of conjecture going around," a senior Trump administration official said on condition of anonymity late on Tuesday when asked if there was confirmation of the reports.

North Korea experts have cautioned that hard facts about Kim's condition are elusive, but said his unprecedented absence from major celebrations for his grandfather's birthday last week signals that something may have gone awry.

Thae Yong Ho, a former North Korean deputy ambassador to London who defected to South Korea in 2016, said state media's extended silence is unusual because it had been quick to previously dispel questions about the status of its leadership.

"Every time there is controversy about (Kim), North Korea would take action within days to show he is alive and well," he said in a statement.

His absence from the April 15 anniversary worship, in particular, is "unprecedented," Thae said.

Kim is a third-generation hereditary leader who rules North Korea with an iron fist, coming to power after his father Kim Jong Il died in 2011 from a heart attack.

Reporting from inside North Korea is notoriously difficult, especially on matters concerning its leadership, given tight controls on information. There have been past false reports regarding its leaders, but the fact Kim has no clear successor means any instability could present a major international risk.

Trump said he had asked Kim about succession in the past but declined to elaborate.

"The basic assumption would be maybe it would be someone in the family," said O'Brien. "But, again, it's too early to talk about that because we just don't know what condition Chairman Kim is in and we'll have to see how it plays out."

With no details known about Kim's young children, analysts said Kim's sister and loyalists could form a regency until a successor is old enough to take over.

"At least Kim Jong Un did his best to talk and meet with President Moon in the past. I don't recall any other other time we were in such a good relationship with North Korea," said Lee Eun-ji, a 28-year-old nurse in Seoul.

"If his health really has deteriorated and he becomes critically ill, then I wonder if his replacement would even try to make those efforts....I worry his successor could be a warmonger and it could be a threat to South Korea."

In recent years, Kim has launched a diplomatic offensive to promote himself as a world leader, holding three meetings with Trump, four with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and five with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Kim has sought to have international sanctions against his country eased, but has refused to dismantle his nuclear weapons programme, a steadfast demand by the United States.

Read Full Story

FROM OUR PARTNERS