North Korean Media Shows Kim Jong Un In Public For First Time In 40 Days
After an abcense of more than a month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been shown appearing in public by the country’s media:
SEOUL, South Korea — The North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose prolonged absence from public view generated speculation about his health and grip on power, has visited a housing project and was seen walking with a cane, according to the North’s state-run media on Tuesday.
The report was the first time the state-run news media had mentioned a public appearance by Mr. Kim since Sept. 3, when he was reported to have attended a concert. The report was likely to help dissipate the recent flurry of rumors over Mr. Kim’s whereabouts, many of which speculated on whether he had lost out in a power struggle inside the notoriously opaque government.
According to the Korean Central News Agency, Mr. Kim recently visited a district where his government had just finished a cluster of homes for satellite engineers. North Korea is particularly proud of its scientists who succeeded in putting a satellite into orbit on board a long-range rocket in December 2012. Washington considered the rocket program a cover for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile.
Mr. Kim “inspected various parts” of the housing district in Pyongyang, the news agency said, indicating that he had no trouble moving about. He expressed “great satisfaction” at the project and also posed for pictures with North Korean scientists who were to move into the new homes, the report added.
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 withnuclear 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.
During the trip, Mr. Kim also inspected a newly completed building for an energy research institute, the agency said. He later posed for a group picture before the statues of his father and grandfather, the agency said.
On Mr. Kim’s latest “on-site guidance trip,” he was accompanied by members of his government’s elite, including Vice Marshal Hwang Pyong-so, the army’s chief political officer. Marshal Hwang is No. 2 in the government hierarchy, which Mr. Kim has often reshuffled since taking over after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in 2011. The Korean Central News Agency did not specify when the visit took place.
That last part, of course, is something of an important point. We don’t necessarily know when these photos were taken, although I suppose it’s safe to assume that they were taken somewhat recently and that there’s no concern on the regime’s part in showing Kim walking with a cane. Above all, though, this would seem to suggest that Kim, or at least the people around him, remains firmly in control of the state. Of course, in the end, it’s all tea leaf reading with this country.