Disappearance of Kim Jong Un

Screen Shot 2020-05-03 at 8.21.32 PMWriter: Eve H.

Visual: Jenna A.

Editor: Gisele F.

In the midst of this global pandemic, and a seemingly cursed 2020, it seems we have experienced every shocking event that could possibly happen in the span of one month. The Pentagon has released never before seen images of UFO sightings, Trump has recommended injecting detergent into the lungs to cure Covid-19 in “just one minute!”, but now, rumors are swirling around the alleged disappearance and ill health of North Korean Leader, Kim Jong Un. There have been so many crazy headlines recently, so how do we know what to believe and accept as truth, and what to reject? Let’s look at the facts.

April 15th is the date of the most important North Korean national holiday, the “Day of the Sun”, which commemorates Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong Un’s late grandfather, and North Korea’s esteemed founder. Kim did not make an appearance on this important day, which is odd considering its monumental significance in the nation. Cheong Seong-chang, an expert on North Korea from the Sejong Institute in South Korea, emphasized the magnitude of Kim’s absence. He told the New York Times that, “For Kim Jong Un, not visiting the Kumsusan Palace on April 15 is all but unthinkable in North Korea. It’s the closest thing to blasphemy in the North”.

Experts also found it unusual that missile tests were carried out the day before the celebration. Typically, photos of the missile tests are released by North Korean news outlets depicting Kim smiling and nodding with satisfaction at the missiles, however, this time, no news was announced, and the Hermit nation remained eerily quiet. Incidentally, both CNN and a South Korean news outlet run by North Korean defectors have declared that Kim is gravely ill following surgery, citing their multiple sources as anonymous. However, CNN also noted that they were “closely monitoring” intelligence reports on Kim’s health. While we are not sure what intelligence the US actually has on Kim’s health, we do know that US aircraft have been doing surveillance around North Korea to investigate Kim’s disappearance according to Vice’s report last Thursday, the 23rd. Experts believe that these movements are a ploy to coerce North Korean officials into revealing the status of Kim’s health or alternatively, the cause of his disappearance. Although international news sites and governments question the validity of this information, it is certainly plausible that the North Korean dictator is indeed sick, or even, dead. It is widley known that Kim is obese, a heavy smoker, and reportedly suffering from severe gout. These pre-conditions make him more vulnerable to Covid-19. While North Korea announced that it had zero victims of Covid-19 within its borders, we all know the authoritarian government is not known for its transparency and honesty, so any pronouncements must be taken with a wheelbarrow of salt. For example, North Korea claims a literacy rate of 100%. It is statistically impossible to achieve total literacy unless the statistic counts in newborn children and infants as readers. Insider sources have shared that citizens in Pyongyang are panic buying groceries in grocery stores and markets, suggesting that Covid-19 may be posing a threat to North Korea.

What can we surmise as the implications of Kim Jong Un’s absence from the public eye? Speculation runs rife that Kim’s disappearance spells an impending threat. The last time Kim went unseen for an extended period of time, in 2014, it was reported that North Korean officials were planning a cyberattack on Sony Pictures after they released the comedy film ‘The Interview’, whose plot centered around a CIA plot to assassinate Kim. Experts fear that his absence in the past 2 weeks may be related to the missile testing on April 14.

Nonetheless, rumours persist about Kim’s conceivable death. It should be noted that North Korean officials reported Kim’s father Kim Jong-Il’s death 48 hours after the patriarch’s demise. Today, there is a high level of uncertainty surrounding who will succeed Kim. Some believe that his sister, Kim Yo Jong will take the reins, considering her more recent roles in North Korea’s government, releasing public statements and even meeting with foreign leaders. The Washington Post reports otherwise: “Female inheritance in modern dictatorships is essentially unheard of” says Sheena Greitens, an expert on North Korean politics based in the University of Missouri. Kim’s brother, diplomat Kim Pyong-Il, may also be next-in-line; or even Choe Ryong-Hae, President of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, ranking second in command in Pyongyang’s government hierarchy.

Regardless of which successor will eventually reign, the spectre of political instability in North Korea is unnerving. Despite the world’s longing for peace in both Koreas, uncertainty breeds mistrust. North Korea has proven itself an unreliable figure in nuclear weaponry is a cause for global concern. On the other end of the spectrum, the trade or sale of these nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, strictly prohibited by the UN, would give a concerning amount of power and leverage to other insecure nations or terrorist organizations. If leadership was handed over, or taken over, by the Korean People’s Army, North Korea’s armed forces, the outlook would be particularly bleak for the United States. “That’s generally bad for the US,” Van Jackson of the Victoria University of Wellington tells Vox News. The People’s Army, “tends to be the most predictably hawkish toward the US”, he says. Military control would eliminate any previous agreements that had been made between Kim and Trump, and US cities would undeniably become endangered if North Korea’s claims about their intercontinental missiles are true.

It is likely that China, North Korea’s closest ally, would attempt to reinstate stability to the country, and Trump may plan to intervene. There has been, and continues to be, a high level of tension and hostility between Trump and Xi Jinping, regarding the trade between the two, and their respective economies. Trump has previously transferred blame onto Xi, in order to protect his own political image, and defend his administration who is failing to uphold countless promises to US citizens and agreements with other nations. Trump interrupting North Korean and Chinese relations may be a declaration of war. The Nikkei Asian Review speculates that in this power struggle between the US and China, South Korea may be pressured into supporting the US position. Since the US houses its military troops in South Korea, there have been security disputes between Trump and South Korean president Moon Jae-In. Trump demanded that South Korea should pay more fees, claiming that they enjoy “free security”. Trump has also threatened 25% tariffs on automobile imports to the US. If South Korea refuses such demands, trade between the US and South Korea could deteriorate, with global markets experiencing an unforeseeable economic fallout. Current news reports claim Kim Jong Un has resurfaced, and that a gunfire exchange has taken place at the DMZ.

After two weeks with no substantial evidence and news, the world waits with bated breath for the truth.

The world anticipates with bated breath more explosive pan-Korean developments.

Sources:
Pesek, William. “Change of Leadership in North Korea Threatens Economic Trouble for All.” Nikkei Asian Review, Nikkei Asian Review, 29 Apr. 2020,
Porterfield, Carlie. “North Korea’s Disappearing Leader: Speculation Grows Around Kim Jong Un’s Health.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 25 Apr. 2020,
Sang-hun, Choe. “Kim Jong-Un’s Absence and North Korea’s Silence Keep Rumor Mill Churning.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Apr. 2020,

http://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/26/world/asia/kim-jong-un-absence-north-korea.html.
Ward, Alex. “The Rumors of Kim Jong Un’s ‘Grave’ Illness, Explained.” Vox, Vox, 23 Apr. 2020,