North Korea's state media continues to stay quiet on the official status of supreme leader Kim Jong-un. According to a report by Al Jazeera, the DPRK leader hasn't been seen in public for a while, most glaringly during the April 15 celebration for his grandfather's birthday. This and news that the leader was in "grave danger" and ill after reportedly collapsing with chest pains.
For the state media, any topic seems to more pressing to report on than the whereabouts of the controversial head of state. The Korean Central News Agency ran stories on sports equipment, mulberry picking and a study from Bangladesh focusing on the DPRK's self-reliance ideology according to Al Jazeera. Chairman Kim was not mentioned.
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Unnamed sources have been quoted since the initial news broke, including one that said Chairman Kim was receiving treatment in a villa at the Mount Myohyang resort. This was followed by a CNN report citing an anonymous U.S. government official claiming Kim was in "grave danger." South Korean officials have dismissed these reports but it hasn't stopped reports from speculating about the leader being deceased to who could be next in line to fill the leadership role.
The last time Kim disappeared from public view came in 2014 when he underwent a medical procedure to have a cyst removed from his ankle. This disappearance lasted for six weeks and carried plenty of speculation with it in a similar fashion. As Al Jazeera points out, this isn't the first time that reports on the closed-off nation have been off or full of speculation.
A prime example came in 2016, a report by South Korean media outlets said that Kim had former military chief executed before he appeared on camera months later and serving in a new position.
If Kim Jong-un did die, the ramifications will be interesting amid the coronavirus pandemic and the climate in Asia currently. Most reports note that Kim's sister would likely be the top choice to step in as leader. But others feel that any choice will be a fill-in until the leader's children were older.
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"The basic assumption would be maybe it would be someone in the family," National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said on Fox News according to Al Jazeera. "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."
Kim Jong-un is currently 36 and faces a heavy burden due to his family health history. With this in mind, his potential demise isn't a surprise.