Kim Jong-un Appears After Lengthy Absence

Missing since 3 September 2014, Kim Jong-un appears in public using a cane.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made a public appearance on 3 September 2014 and quietly “disappeared” immediately thereafter, spending weeks out of the public eye without immediate explanation. North Korea is notorious for a lack of transparency, and soon global speculation centered upon Kim’s notable absence and whether he’d been injured or even arrested and deposed.

Chatter inspired by Kim Jong-un’s sudden disappearance reached a fever pitch on 10 October. Doctored images of the North Korean leader in which he appeared to be bloodied and under guard circulated social media sites like Facebook and Twitter:

The image of Kim above was not authentic, but the North Korean leader remained missing and interest in his whereabouts escalated. On 14 October, North Korean state-run media reported that Kim Jong-un appeared publicly and displayed images of the leader visiting newly-built housing units in Pyongyang.

The New York Times reported:

North Korea’s main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, dedicated the front page of its Tuesday edition to Mr. Kim’s reappearance in public after more than five weeks of absence spawned global speculation that there might be something wrong inside the totalitarian police state, which is armed with nuclear weapons. The paper carried a series of photos of Mr. Kim smiling and moving about with a cane in his left hand, giving credence to the theory that he had been suffering a leg problem.

The photos showed Mr. Kim looking around brand-new eight-story apartment buildings and top military generals and party secretaries taking notes while he spoke — a scene typical of such a visit by the top leader.

Images of Kim circulated and video from North Korean media aired globally:

The Guardian quoted an expert on North Korean relations on why the regime might take pains to conceal a possible illness or injury:

John Delury, a North Korea analyst at Yonsei University in Seoul, said last week there was evidence that Kim was in poor health, which the ruling party did not want to reveal to protect the leader’s image. “When the leader is somehow physically incapacitated, they can’t show him off as they like to,” he said. “The regime is incredibly image-conscious. It choreographs everything, especially when it comes to the leader. Kim is a young guy, and you don’t want to see a young guy in that condition.”

Kim Jong-un’s prolonged absence led to suspicions of a coup in North Korea but Delury believes such a large-scale shift would be impossible to conceal, even in the notoriously secretive state.

Last updated:   14 October 2014