Update: Reuters reported Friday that North Korean state TV said Kim Jong Un is currently suffering from “discomfort”– the first public concession that he may have a health problem.
Kim Jong Un did not appear at a second session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), continuing a three-week long break from public appearances, a report published by the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) indicated on Thursday.
Kim Jong Un was last seen attending a concert at the Mansudae Arts Theater on September 3, but state media have not mentioned any appearances since.
“It’s now more than three weeks since Kim Jong Un was last seen in public. North Korea knows this is prompting raised eyebrows outside, so Kim’s no-show at the SPA will only reinforce such speculations,” Aidan Foster-Carter, a long-time North Korea watcher, told NK News.
“I’m guessing ill-health: nothing major. But I stress that’s just a guess. If Kim were to die or be ousted, we are into a totally different ballgame re North Korea and all bets are off,” Foster-Carter added.
Press in some countries recently speculated that Kim’s prolonged absence may be related to health problems, but with no evidence beyond footage of the North Korean leader apparently limping in July and August.
Disappearances by the ruling elite in North Korea are nothing new. In 2013, Kim Jong Un was hidden from the public eye for a period of two weeks, re-emerging only in time for the 101 year anniversary of his grandfather’s birth – Kim Il Sung.
Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, has also spent lengthy periods of time out of public light, prompting media in 2012 to publicize fears of suspected health problems or even a purge. Re-emerging within months, it is thought Ri gave birth to a new baby during her time-out.
NDC CHANGES ANNOUNCED
The KCNA report of Thursday’s Supreme People’s Assembly meeting said that in Kim’s absence, Hwang Pyong So was elected to vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission – the DPRK’s top military organ.
The report said that Hwang succeeded Choe Ryong Hae “at the proposal of Marshal Kim Jong Un.”
Earlier this year, Hwang was also appointed as the director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau, becoming the DPRK’s de facto second-in-command. Hwang replaced Choe this time as well.
Commenting on that development in April, NK News leadership analyst John Grisafi attributed this change to possible health concerns of Choe.
The SPA session also covered North Korea’s compulsory education ordinance, implemented in 2012.
Deputy Pak Pong Ju’s report said that, “a work for successfully enforcing the schooling has been dynamically pushed forward as the one involving the whole state, all people and the whole society and signal successes have been made in it”, said the KCNA article.
Pak was also reported to have called for, “improving the conditions and environment for education to be fit for the appearance of a highly civilized socialist country.”
Since the 2012 ordinance, North Korea has been investing in expanding its education infrastructure.
File picture: KCNA
Additional Reporting: Chad O’Carroll