The reports follow conflicting claims about the 36-year-old, variously suggesting he is dead, in a vegetative state, or alternatively alive and well and possibly isolating to minimise the risk of catching COVID-19. However, Japanese news website Gendai Business cites a “high-ranking” defector who claims work is stacking up as a result of Kim not having approved and signed off on proposals submitted by the ruling party and state institutions.
The same site claims a team of German doctors visited the Hermit State in February to treat him for an unspecified illness, after Pyongyang first asked for France to send physicians.
Meanwhile, a South Korean think tank known as National Assembly Research Services suggested Kim’s 32-year-old sister has dramatically increased her power base in recent months.
Her appointment to North Korea’s Politburo had served to “strengthen the governing foundation of the Paekdu bloodline”, the think tank added, in reference to Mount Paektu, where the country’s founder Kim Il-sung – grandfather to both siblings – oversaw resistance to the Japanese.
Kim’s state of health is the subject of intense speculation and largely stems from his failure to attend birthday celebrations held in honour of Kim Il-sung – referred to as the Dear Leader – on April 15.
His absence was regarded as highly irregular, and widespread media reports have suggested he may have died as a result of a botched heart operation.
Speaking earlier this week, journalist Roy Calley, who has visited North Korea more than 10 times as a tourist, said he believed the reports of his demise were almost certainly true.
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Mr Calley, who published a book about his experiences, Look With Your Eyes and Tell the World, last year, added: “Knowing the country the way I do, I’m convinced they would parade him to the world if he was okay. They wouldn’t want this speculation.
“The carriage where the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, Kim’s father, died is still on public display, so they will obviously be preparing for an announcement.
“This might be delayed for quite some time, as the outpouring of grief across the country is like nothing you will see anywhere else.”
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However, Prof Steve Tsang, speaking yesterday, took a slightly different view.
Prof Tsang, director of the China Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), told Express.co.uk: “I don’t believe he is dead – at least not yet.
“I think if he was, it would have emerged officially by now.
“Having said that, there is clearly something going on here because this is definitely not a normal situation.
“I’m not saying he will not die in the next few days or weeks.
“I’m just saying I don’t think it has happened yet.”
Mr Tsang also suggested it was far from a given that Kim’s sister would get the nod to replace him, suggesting her progress would be hampered by her gender.
Commercial satellite uploaded by the 38 North website today once again showed a train at the leadership train station which services Kim Jong-un’s compound in the coastal city of Wonsan, lending weight to suggestions he has been staying there.
There has also been speculation that Kim is lying low to avoid coronavirus – although officially North Korea has no confirmed cases.
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