South Korea’s unification minister on Tuesday dismissed a local media report on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un having undergoing surgery at the North’s Hyangsan Hospital as “fake news.”
Speaking at the National Assembly, unification minister Kim Yeon-chul said it was “hard to accept” reports from the Seoul-based Daily NK that a doctor from the DPRK’s Kim Man Yoo Hospital had been involved in “either procedure or surgery” on Kim Jong Un.
“I have never heard that Chairman Kim went to Hyangsan,” the unification minister told lawmakers from the Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee.
“Hyangsan Hospital is a public health center, hence it is not a facility [where someone] can undergo surgery or procedure.”
Daily NK reported last week, quoting one anonymous in-country source, that Kim Jong Un had undergone a cardiovascular procedure at a hospital near Mount Myohyang on April 12, and that the leader was “under the care of doctors at the Hyang San Villa” nearby.
The unification minister on Tuesday strongly dismissed the flurry of reporting surrounding Kim’s health, describing the recent speculation as an “infodemic.”
When asked whether it was true that a Chinese medical team had gone into North Korea to help treat the leader, also reported last week, the minister reiterated claims of “fake news.”
From his point of view, Kim said, there was a “low probability” the reports were true.
“The government does not respond to fake news one by one,” he insisted, reiterating claims made on Monday that Seoul can “confidently say” that nothing unusual has been detected in North Korea recently.
DAY OF THE SUN NO-SHOW
The minister’s claims drew the ire of several lawmakers — from both ruling and opposition parties — on Tuesday, who repeatedly raised questions as to why Seoul was not considering the DPRK leader’s no-show at a high-profile event last week to be “unusual.”
But while the minister admitted that the DPRK leader’s absence at the Day of the Sun was unprecedented under Kim Jong Un’s rule, he stressed that the move should be understood in the context of North Korea’s ongoing measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Many events in Pyongyang, he said, had been “canceled due to coronavirus-related situation,” adding that he believes the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun visit to have also been organized along the same lines.
North Korea “is officially telling the World Health Organization” that there are zero COVID-19 cases inside its territory, Kim continued, “but they are implementing quarantine [measures] diversely and strictly.”
One lawmaker responded, however, that Kim Jong Un’s sudden disappearance in April did not make sense, given his continued public activities in the earlier months of the year when the coronavirus situation had appeared much more serious.
“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.”
ALIVE AND WELL, BUT WHERE?
Another topic of heated inquiries by lawmakers to officials on Tuesday was Kim Jong Un’s exact whereabouts.
Moon Chung-in, a top adviser to South Korea’s President, told Fox News over the weekend that Kim was “alive and well” and had been staying in the city of Wonsan for the past two weeks — a theory also supported by other recent reports citing official U.S. sources and satellite imagery evidence.
When pushed on whether the South Korean government knows where Kim is at the moment, the unification minister responded that it is, while stressing that Seoul could not share the details as a matter of policy.
Criticized for his “vague” remarks, the unification minister stressed that intelligence assessments and the way the government deals with them could “impact relations” with Pyongyang.
The minister also appeared to confirm Moon Chung-in’s “alive and well” remarks, suggesting the country’s National Security Council (NSC) assessment of “no unusual signs” in the North confirmed that detail.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
South Korea's unification minister on Tuesday dismissed a local media report on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un having undergoing surgery at the North's Hyangsan Hospital as "fake news."
Speaking at the National Assembly, unification minister Kim Yeon-chul said it was "hard to accept" reports from the Seoul-based Daily NK that a doctor from the DPRK's Kim Man Yoo Hospital had been involved in "either procedure or surgery" on Kim Jong Un.