South Korea: Kim Jong Un is 'alive and well'

"Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13," South Korea's top foreign policy adviser said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides a horse during snowfall in Mount Paektu (photo credit: KCNA/VIA REUTERS)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un rides a horse during snowfall in Mount Paektu
(photo credit: KCNA/VIA REUTERS)
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un is "alive and well," the South Korean government has said, according to CNN.
"Our government position is firm," Moon Chung-in, the top foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told CNN. "Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected."
Speculation has abounded over the health of the North Korean leader since he failed to make an appearance at an event to celebrate his grandfather Kim Il Sung's birthday on April 15, with rumors swirling that he may have died or be in a vegetative state following cardiovascular surgery earlier this month. The anniversary is an important date in the North Korean calendar.
A luxury train belonging to the family was spotted in satellite images of Wonsan, parked at the "leadership station" between April 21 and April 23, fuelling speculation that Kim may be recuperating there. The North Korean leader is known to enjoy visits to the beachside town, which features leisure facilities including a horse riding track, a covered dock, a shooting range and nine large guesthouses. However Kim is known to normally fly or drive to the resort.
North Korea has said it has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, but given the fact that the country has taken stringent steps to head off an outbreak, Kim's absence from the ceremonies is not particularly unusual, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul, who oversees North Korea engagement, told lawmakers.
"It is true that he had never missed the anniversary for Kim Il Sung’s birthday since he took power, but many anniversary events including celebrations and a banquet had been canceled because of coronavirus concerns," the minister said at a parliamentary hearing.
He said there were at least two instances since mid-January where Kim Jong Un was out of sight for nearly 20 days. "I don’t think that’s particularly unusual given the current (coronavirus) situation."
The unification minister described reports that Kim had undergone a heart procedure, and that a Chinese medical team had traveled to North Korea, as "fake news."
North Korea had canceled some large events, and imposed a border lockdown and quarantine measures in an effort to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus.
But if Kim Jong Un is hiding out due to fears surrounding COVID-19, it would "puncture a hole in the state media narrative of how this crisis has been perfectly managed," said Chad O'Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea.
"If he is merely trying to avoid infection, it should theoretically be very easy to release photos or videos of a healthy-looking Kim," he said.
The Japanese weekly magazine Shukan Gendai reported on Friday that a Chinese medical team member on the mission to North Korea had reported that Kim was taken to hospital for emergency care while visiting the countryside in mid-April, following which a team of Chinese experts were dispatched to advise.
Last week, Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, reported that Kim was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure on April 12, citing an unnamed source in North Korea.
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump downplayed suggestions that Kim was unwell, telling reporters last Thursday: “I think the report was incorrect, let me just put it that way.
“I hear the report was an incorrect report. I hope it was an incorrect report,” he added, without providing further details.
At a White House press briefing two days previously Trump said he had a "very good relationship" with Kim, adding "I wouldn’t - I can only say this, I wish him well, because if he is in the kind of condition that the reports say, that’s a very serious condition, as you know. But I wish him well.”
On Monday, China's Foreign Ministry said that China has no information to offer on Kim's health status.
However, a US official told CNN also on Monday that concerns about Kim's health are credible, but the severity of his illness is hard to assess, given the rogue state's secretive reporting. The North Korean press have issued a number of reports on his activities since news of his potential health concerns emerged, such as a report on Sunday in the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun that Kim had thanked workers helping to remodel the city of Samjiyon in North Korea.
Meanwhile, a former CIA Korea Branch chief has told The Jerusalem Post that North Korea will likely be a nuclear threat even if Kim has died.
Brian Klingner, who is also a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, said: “The regime has long emphasized the centrality of nuclear weapons to its national security and its resistance to negotiating them away.
“A successor may be more deft in reaching out to foreign countries, as Kim Jong Un was [as opposed to his predecessors], but the underlying objectives and policies would remain constant. Even a stable North Korea will remain a threat.”
Reuters and Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.