Something strange is going on with Kim Jong-un’s appearance.
The North Korean leader showed up in public earlier this month looking noticeably slimmer than usual, leading to a great deal of speculation as to what is going on with Kim.
North Korea observers seemed to agree that if the weight loss is a sign of greater health, it would likely serve to shore up Kim’s position. But if the dropping of weight is due to some type of illness, it’s likely the effect on Kim’s position will be the opposite.
Earlier this week, something even stranger happened: Korean state media acknowledged the weight loss, and implied that individual North Koreans are worried about it.
North Korean state television showed a man in Pyongyang stating that North Koreans were “heartbroken” about Kim’s weight loss.
“Seeing respected general secretary (Kim Jong Un) looking emaciated breaks our people’s heart so much,” the man told state broadcaster KRT. “Everyone is saying that their tears welled up.”
CNN speculated that the segment probably received an official blessing from the regime, although it’s possible that it somehow “slipped through the cracks.”
Now, there is a report that the regime is seeking to stop “gossip” about the leader’s health.
“North Korea has launched an investigation into gossip about the health of the country’s leader Kim Jong Un, after he appeared on state media looking thinner after a lengthy absence,” Radio Free Asia reported Tuesday.
The report also said that the state media has used Kim’s slimmer appearance for propaganda, in implying that “Kim is suffering alongside his people, who are struggling in a country plagued by chronic food insecurity exacerbated by the effects of the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.”
What do the efforts to stop the gossip look like?
“I was informed that the Ministry of State Security issued an order to each region’s State Security Department last week to secretly investigate rumors related to the health of the Highest Dignity,” a resident of North Pyongan told RFA this week. “I heard about it from a state security agent in Tongrim county who I am close with.”
The investigation into the “gossip” will “occur simultaneously in all cities and counties in the province and will target government officials and residents alike.”
The State Security Department, per the report, is seeking to find the source of rumors that Kim is in ill health. There were also rumors of that kind of the spring of 2020, when rumors spread around the world that Kim was ill or even dead after he didn’t appear in public for several months. Kim later dispelled those rumors by resurfacing in public.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, 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.