by WorldTribune Staff, May 3, 2020
Photos and video released on May 1 by official North Korean media show dictator Kim Jong-Un appearing at a ceremony at a new industrial complex. But doubts that things were back to normal in the far-from-normal “hermit kingdom” were punctuated by gunfire from the North at a South Korean guard post on the DMZ.
Kim appears to be “thoroughly enjoying himself in the company of his younger sister, Kim Yo-Jong, and a lineup of high-ranking officials” as he cuts the ribbon at the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory, correspondent Donald Kirk, a WorldTribune.com columnist, wrote for the Daily Beast.
Several hours after KCNA released the photos of Kim Jong-Un, North Korean state TV broadcast a lengthy video report showing Kim at the factory “walking by cheering well-wishers carrying flowers, and his sister Yo-Jong formally handing him a box containing the scissors with which he cut the red tape before going on a walking tour in and around the new buildings,” Kirk wrote.
“Judging from his waddling gait, however, Kim may have undergone a medical procedure that accounted for his prolonged absence.”
Thae Hong-ho, the former senior North Korean diplomat who defected in London nearly four years ago and was elected last month to South Korea’s national assembly, said “It’s all very suspicious.”
“The immediate view from here is the photos are legit and Kim has again defied all the talking heads and experts and nay-sayers who thought for sure he was either dead or dying or in any case suffering any number of ailments that might besiege a hard-working, chain-smoking, cheese-loving, 5-foot 7-inch 300-pounder,” Kirk wrote.
Dan Pinkston, who lectures on international relations at Troy University’s campus in Seoul, said he had “no reason to believe the photos are fake. The most likely reasons [he dropped out of sight] are probably to avoid COVID-19, or he might have undergone some medical procedure.”
Related: Conflicting reports explain Kim absence; Video on his death circulates in North, April 28, 2020
Kim had not been seen in public since an appearance on April 11 when he addressed the political bureau of the Workers’ Party, calling for tougher measures to curb COVID-19.
“You don’t have to be a physician, and be Kim’s physician, to conclude that he doesn’t look well,” Pinkston said. “And he’s only 36 or 37. On the bright side (for him), he’s young enough to change his habits — quit smoking, clean up his diet, and lose some weight.”
On the other hand, said Pinkston, “he does not look good (at any age), and if he continues this trajectory, I don’t think he will live as long as his father or grandfather.”
Kim Il-Sung ruled for almost 50 years and died at the age of 82. Kim Jong-Il ruled for 17 years, and died at the age of 70.
Kirk added that “the general impression was that Kim had scored a propaganda success by lying low.”
“Nobody was paying attention to his missile launches,” Jang Sung-Eun, an office worker in Seoul told Kirk. “He had to disappear for a while for people to pay attention.”
Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international relations at Ewha University in Seoul cautioned that “all is not well inside North Korea” and Kim’s rule has suffered from “unmet expectations” after “Kim’s failed bid for sanctions relief, possible community spread of COVID-19, and negative economic effects from tightened border restrictions with China.”
Meanwhile, a South Korean guard post in a central section of the demilitarized zone was hit by at least four bullets fired from North Korea, the Korea Times reported on Sunday, citing South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The shots were a clear violation of an inter-Korean military agreement under which the two Koreas halted all hostile activities at the border, but do not seem to have been fired intentionally, the JCS said.
According to the JCS, a guard at the post heard multiple gunshots around 7:41 a.m. and found four bullet holes on the outer wall. There were no casualties and no significant damage to the military facility.
“Our military fired two rounds of warning shots, about 10 shots each time, and also broadcast warnings to the North Koreans,” a military official said. He said the military response was made under the direction of a commander at the site and was according to standard operating procedure for a violation of the inter-Korean military demarcation line (MDL).
He said although the military sees the shots from North Korea as a breach of the Sept. 19 Comprehensive Military Agreement signed by the defense chiefs of the two Koreas in 2018 in Pyongyang on the sidelines of the third inter-Korean summit, it is still evaluating if this was a “military provocation.”
“At the time the guard heard the shots, visibility was poor as there was a thick fog. It was also around the time of a guard change by the North Koreans when they check their weapons,” the official said. “Before and after, and at the time of the shots, ordinary farming activities were still carrying on nearby.”
He said visibility from the post was less than a kilometer, while three nearby guard posts in the North across the MDL are a respective 1.5, 1.7 and 1.9 kilometers from the guard post in the South hit by the shots. The official added these were not the ideal circumstances for a military provocation.
According to the JCS, a message was sent to the North Koreans at 9:35 a.m. through the military hotline ― under the name of the South’s chief delegate to inter-Korean military talks ― asking for an explanation about the incident, but there has been no response so far.
The military said the incident is under investigation and the bullets found at the site were being analyzed.