President Donald Trump has suggested that he knows a lot more about Kim Jong Un’s health than he’s willing to share, while South Korea blasts claims that the North Korean dictator is gravely ill as “fake news.”
“I can’t tell you, [but] yes, I do have a very good idea,” Trump said at his Monday evening briefing outside the White House when asked about Kim’s health.
“I hope he’s fine. I do know how he’s doing, relatively speaking. I just wish him well. You’ll probably be hearing in the not too distant future.”
The president wouldn't elaborate on what exactly he knew, but it appears Trump has been given some information in recent days, given that last week he said he knew nothing about Kim’s situation or where the reports about his ill health had come from.
But then the president added further to the confusion surrounding Kim’s current status, suggesting he didn’t have any new information.
“He didn't say anything last Saturday,” Trump said later in the press conference. “Nobody knows where he is, so he obviously couldn't have said it. This is breaking news that Kim Jong Un made a statement on Saturday. I don't think so.”
It is unclear what “statement” Trump was referring to, but it may have been the letter signed by Kim and addressed to workers in the Wonsan coastal city where some experts believe the dictator is staying.
It's been 17 days since Kim was last seen in public, with his absence from the important Day of the Sun anniversary celebrations on April 15 kicking off the reports that something was wrong.
Days later a report from the NK Daily, a website run by North Korean defectors, claimed Kim was struggling to recover from heart surgery. Since then, there has been a steady trickle of reports claiming Kim is either in a vegetative state or dead.
On Tuesday, however, South Korea labeled the reports as “fake news,” claiming once again that there's been no suspicious activity in North Korea to suggest Kim is close to death.
Indeed, Unification Minister Kim Yeon Chul suggested that Kim was missing from the April 15 ceremony because of efforts to prevent the spread of coronavirus, pointing out that several events in Pyongyang had been canceled.
He also pointed out that there were several periods earlier this year when Kim’s whereabouts were unknown.
“There were times that [Kim Jong Un’s activities] were undetected for 21 days and 19 days, even just for this year,” the minister said. “The current situation, it is hard to see it as immensely special.”
Still, experts point out that if Kim is indeed fit and healthy and simply self-isolating to avoid the coronavirus, then it would be easy to dismiss these rumors by simply publishing a picture.
“If he is merely trying to avoid infection, it should theoretically be very easy to release photos or videos of a healthy-looking Kim,” Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea, told Reuters.
However, on Tuesday, the state’s main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, once again published an edition without any new pictures of Kim.
Instead, North Korea’s state-run media is continuing to report on letters that Kim has been sending during his absence, the most recent, reported Tuesday, sent to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to mark his country’s Freedom Day.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, April 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)