North Korea's Kim Jong Un Reported By Japanese Media To Be In Vegetative State

Update (4/25/2020): Taiwan News relays that Japanese media, citing the medical team treating Kim Jong Un, is reporting that the 36-year-old has been left in a vegetative state following a botched heart surgery.

Amid conflicting reports about Kim's health, Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Gendai reported on Friday (April 24) that a Chinese medical team member on the mission to North Korea briefly explained the situation to its senior writer, Kondm Daisuke.

The medical expert said during a visit to the countryside earlier this month, Kim clutched his chest and fell to the ground. A doctor accompanying Kim immediately carried out CPR and took him to a nearby hospital for emergency care.

The doctor also requested a medical team from Beijing for assistance. At the hospital, prior to the arrival of the Chinese medical team, the North Korean doctor performed cardiac surgery but there were complications due to the hereditary dictator's obesity and the doctor's anxiety. -Taiwan News

A variation of the rumor was repeated by a Beijing television executive whose uncle is a Chinese foreign minister - telling her 15 million followers on Weibo that Kim Jong Un is dead based on a "very solid source."

Hong Kong news outlets, meanwhile, begun reporting rumors of Kim's death.

Of note, Bloomberg reports that a North Korean sympathizer calls Kim's health rumors 'false.'

Here is a more detailed - and very unconfirmed - thread on what allegedly happened according to Shukan Gendai.

Kim has not been seen in public since he presided over a meeting on April 11 - notably missing a celebration on April 15 to mark the birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, a very important holiday.

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Update: Following an earlier report that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may have been evacuated from Pyongyang (as he was nowhere to be seen during the national holiday celebration of his grandfather's birthday on April 15) amid speculation about his failing health following a report from a Seoul-based website that Kim was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure on April 12, late on Friday Reuters reported that China has "dispatched a team to North Korea including medical experts to advise on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un."

Citing "three people familiar with the situation", Reuters writes that a delegation led by a senior member of the Chinese  Communist Party’s International Liaison Department - which is the main Chinese body dealing with North Korea - left Beijing for North Korea on Thursday.

Meanwhile, both South Korean government officials and a Chinese official with the Liaison Department challenged subsequent reports suggesting that Kim was in grave danger after surgery, while South Korean officials said they had detected no signs of unusual activity in North Korea. On Thursday, President Donald Trump also downplayed earlier reports that Kim was gravely ill. “I think the report was incorrect,” Trump told reporters, but he declined to say if he had been in touch with North Korean officials.

One day later, on Friday, a South Korean source told Reuters their intelligence was that Kim was alive and would likely make an appearance soon. The person said he did not have any comment on Kim’s current condition or any Chinese involvement. An official familiar with U.S. intelligence said that Kim was known to have health problems but they had no reason to conclude he was seriously ill or unable eventually to reappear in public.

Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, when asked about Kim’s health on Fox News after Trump spoke said, “I don’t have anything I can share with you tonight, but the American people should know we’re watching the situation very keenly.”

The last time North Korea’s state media reported on Kim’s whereabouts was when he presided over a meeting on April 11. However, as noted above, state media did not report that he was in attendance at an event to mark the birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15, an important anniversary in North Korea.

Kim, believed to be 36, has disappeared from coverage in North Korean state media before. In 2014, he vanished for more than a month and North Korean state TV later showed him walking with a limp. Speculation about his health has been fanned by his heavy smoking, apparent weight gain since taking power and family history of cardiovascular problems.

When Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, suffered a stroke in 2008, South Korean media reported at the time that Chinese doctors were involved in his treatment along with French physicians.

 

Earlier:

Kim Jong Un was last seen publicly on the weekend of April 11th, but after he was nowhere in sight during the national holiday celebration of his grandfather's birthday on April 15 — highly unusual for the important “Day of the Sun” commemorations, this triggered multiple unconfirmed reports that the North Korean leader was in critical condition after receiving heart surgery.

First, it should be noted that the Western mainstream press often gets North Korea completely wrong and in the case of the latest speculation a high degree of critical skepticism is warranted further given the initial source for the heart surgery claims was a US state-funded media outlet based in South Korea, the Daily NK website.

South Korean officials also downplayed the news, which had initially riled markets at the start of the week, suggesting he was “touring provincial areas”. President Trump also during the regular White House briefing Thursday evening called rumors of Kim’s ill health “fake news”.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, via KCNA.

While there's been lots of questions and speculation, it still remains no satisfactory answers have been given.

Instead, more contradictory reports out of Seoul based on intelligence sources, which suggest he's been "evacuated" from Pyongyang to a coastal city. The new reports say he's on the move and out of the public eye primarily due to COVID-19 outbreaks among key sectors of the country, also which Pyongyang officials have sought to downplay. 

UPI outlines the latest reports as follows:

Kim may have been evacuated to the coastal city of Wonsan, Kangwon Province, where he may have been providing field guidance at a resort construction site, South Korean news service Newsis reported Friday, citing Seoul's national intelligence sources.

According to Newsis, movement has been observed among "dedicated vehicles" for Kim that suggest he may have been evacuated from Pyongyang. A special train for Kim's use was stationed in Wonsan, but Kim's private plane remained in Pyongyang, the report says.

And further, "In the new location, Kim may be carrying out field guidance activities, at Tanchon Hydroelectric Power Plant, or visiting a North Korean artillery unit in Sondok, where short-range projectiles were fired in March," the report speculates based on official sources.

If he does make an appearance anytime soon, it's likely to be related to North Korea's Military Foundation Day events on Saturday, though reports and official photographs could still take days to be released. 

Assuming he is rapidly moving to different locations of the country, it's unlikely his condition would be "gravely ill" as the initial dire headlines speculated. US intelligence is said to be monitoring the situation. 

Meanwhile, joint US-South Korea military drills have just wrapped up. The five-day long regularly scheduled air exercise came following the North launching at least five missile tests so far this year, and as Pyongyang's anger and frustration over stalled nuclear talks with Washington is increasingly on display.