South Korea: Kim Jong Un Did Not Have Surgery Amid Lingering Rumors

May 3, 2020 Updated: May 3, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea—North Korean regime leader Kim Jong Un did not undergo surgery or any other medical procedure, a South Korean official said Sunday, amid speculation about his health that continues to linger even after he reappeared publicly in recent days.

North Korea had said Saturday that Kim attended the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang on Friday, in his first public appearance in about 20 days.

While North Korean video showing a smiling Kim moving around, cutting a red ribbon and smoking quelled intense rumors that he might be gravely ill or even have died, some media outlets and observers still raised questions about his health, citing moments when his walking looked a bit stiff at the factory.

Kim Jong Un (C) cuts a tape
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) cuts a tape, watched by his sister Kim Yo Jong, during his visit to a fertilizer factory in Sunchon, near Pyongyang, North Korea, in this May 1, 2020, photo provided by North Korean state media. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

A senior South Korean presidential official told reporters Sunday that the government had determined that Kim did not have surgery or any other procedure, according to the presidential Blue House. The official, whose name wasn’t disclosed by the Blue House, refused to provide the basis for the intelligence assessment.

South Korea has a spotty record in confirming developments in North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive countries. But when rumors about Kim’s health surfaced in recent weeks, the South Korean government steadfastly dismissed them as baseless and maintained there were no unusual activities in the North.

It wasn’t the first time Kim had disappeared from public view for an extended period. In 2014, when he reappeared after a six-week absence, he walked with a cane and used an electric cart. The North Korea-provided footage on Saturday showed Kim riding an electric cart similar to the one he used in 2014, when he was reported to have an ankle injury.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a military drill at undisclosed location in North Korea on March 2, 2020. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

Kim, 36, is the third generation of his family to govern North Korea with an iron fist that tolerates no dissent. He hasn’t publicly anointed his successor, and rumors about his health triggered worries about the North’s political stability and its nuclear program.

North Korea hasn’t explained Kim’s absence, including why he missed the April 15 commemoration of the birthday anniversary of his late grandfather and North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung. It’s the North’s most important state anniversary, and Kim hadn’t skipped the event since taking power in late 2011 upon his father Kim Jong Il’s death.

By Hyung-Jin Kim