- Alistair Coleman
- Media Follow-up Section
North Korea has released a video clip of one of its citizens expressing concern about leader Kim Jong Un’s weight loss.
The health of the North Korean leader is usually considered an undisputed issue in this country, and the way his image is conveyed strictly by the state media.
And the country’s main TV channel broadcast a video clip in which leader Kim looks lighter than he has been in recent years.
Rumors circulated about the North Korean leader’s health during his decade in power, but these rumors are rarely acknowledged by the country’s notoriously secretive government.
What did viewers see in North Korea?
Two recent clips shown on the main TV channel, Korea Central Television, are believed to have caused concern about Kim Jong Un’s health.
One of the clips showed the leader arriving at a concert with signs of weight loss.
The second clip – the most bizarre – had an unnamed citizen from Pyongyang saying in Friday’s main news broadcast on central television that “Seeing (Kim) getting so emaciated, it saddened us all.”
“Everyone started crying,” he added.
Previous footage and photos from Labor Party meetings this month suggested Kim was losing weight.
Analysis by the North Korean news website showed that the strap of his luxury and precious watch was tighter than it was on previous occasions, suggesting that he was losing weight.
We still do not know the reasons why the video clip was shown to the citizen But Kwak Gil-Seop, who heads the Center for Unified Korea, a website on North Korea issues, told the BBC that the Pyongyang regime “never allows negative news to be published about Kim Jong-un” – meaning that the video was broadcast “to show that Kim Jong Un is losing weight on his own.”
Kwak said the clip “shows that he is committed to his people. Kim Jong Un uses himself as a propaganda platform to establish the image of a leader who works hard for his people day and night.”
Why is this important?
Kim’s health has been a concern for the greater part of the time since his rise to power.
He took power from his late father Kim Jong Il in December 2011, and viewers in North Korea have seen the leader’s weight steadily increase during his decade in power.
There is no clear successor to Kim Jong Un, and his death or prolonged inability to perform his duties may lead to a power vacuum in the nuclear state, which could bring new instability in East Asia.
It is believed that if his sister Kim Yo Jong is deemed unfit to rule, power may shift outside the Kim family for the first time.
Was his health a cause for concern before?
In 2014, Kim Jong Un disappeared for 40 days, leading to speculation that he was either seriously ill or even dead. When he reappeared, he had a crutch with him, which led observers to conclude that he was recovering from an ankle operation.
The disappearances were so frequent that the South Korean government concluded that they might have been for medical purposes.
On one such occasion in 2020, Kim showed signs on his wrist that may have come from a medical procedure.
He is believed to be 37 years old, and is known to be a heavy smoker. It is also believed that he drinks alcohol a lot.
The weight gain that appeared on him during the previous years led observers to believe that he may suffer from health conditions such as diabetes and gout. But given that the leader’s health is not talked about – until now – in the official media, these predictions are impossible to confirm.