South Korean Ministers Say There Are 'No Unusual Signs' in North Korea Despite Kim Jong Un Health Speculation

Two South Korean ministers have said there are no unusual signals from North Korea suggesting that dictator Kim Jong Un is dead or otherwise incapacitated, as speculation around the leader's health continues.

Kim has not been seen in public since April 11, and media reports over the last two weeks have suggested that the 36-year-old underwent surgery for a heart problem. Some reports claim that the surgery was complicated, possibly by Kim's obesity, and that the dictator is now either dead or incapacitated.

North Korea is yet to respond to the speculation. Meanwhile, foreign governments and intelligence services are working to find out the state of play in the secretive nation, long considered a black hole for intelligence gathering, as the media speculates about possible succession plans.

South Korean government officials maintain they have seen nothing to indicate Kim's demise. Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a parliamentary committee meeting Wednesday, "Our intelligence shows that there are no abnormalities, no unusual movements in North Korea," according to the Yonhap News Agency.

Jeong noted that Kim has stepped back from public view before. In 2019, Kim was not seen for 27 days. This year, Kim has been absent from public view for three stretches, Jeong said.

"As a defense minister, I've taken this issue very seriously and checked all the situations, not only military circumstances but others such as the COVID-19 virus," Jeong explained, noting that Seoul and Washington, D.C. share intelligence daily.

An unnamed South Korean minister and an anonymous U.S. source with intelligence links told Reuters this week that Kim may be trying to avoid the COVID-19 coronavirus.

His personal train was spotted outside an exclusive resort on the country's eastern coast near the city of Wonsan, prompting suggestions that the dictator is sheltering there at one of his favored villas. Reuters also reported Wednesday that satellite images had captured luxury boats in use near the villa.

South Korean unification minister Kim Yeon-chul told a parliamentary hearing Wednesday, "We have intelligence capacity that allows us to say confidently that there are no unusual signs," according to The Guardian.

Kim noted that while the dictator has missed a key event honoring his grandfather and North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, "many anniversary events, including celebrations and a banquet, have been cancelled because of coronavirus concerns."

"I don't think that's particularly unusual given the current situation," he added, suggesting that reports of Kim having undergone heart surgery were "fake news".

An unnamed source told Yonhap that the defense ministry, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the intelligence authorities all agreed that Kim has been "running his country normally," in response to questions from the National Assembly's defense committee.

Kim Jong Un, South Korea, North Korea
People watch a television broadcast reporting on North Korean Kim Jong Un at the Seoul Railway Station on April 21, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images/Getty