South Korea says it has 'enough intelligence' to say Kim Jong Un is still alive

  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been conspicuously missing from the public eye since April 11. His absence at a major holiday on April 15 sparked rumors about fragile health and even death.

  • On Monday, South Korea's Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul dismissed the speculation, saying the country has "enough intelligence to confidently say that there are no unusual developments" in North Korea.

  • John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea, said leaders wouldn't issue these types of statements unless "they're really confident" Kim is alive "because they're going to look like fools if they turn out to be wrong."

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On Monday, South Korean officials dispelled speculations about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un's poor health.

At a closed-door meeting in Seoul, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul reported that the South Korean government has "enough intelligence to confidently say that there are no unusual developments" that would offer evidence to the theory that Kim is in grave condition or dead after heart surgery, according to the Associated Press.

The minister didn't specify which intelligence he was referring to.

Also on Monday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in reiterated his support for inter-Korean cooperation projects, including a joint anti-coronavirus quarantine campaign. Moon also touted "confidence" between himself and Kim and "our firm resolve to [achieve] peace," the Associated Press reported.

John Delury, an American professor of East Asia studies at Yonsei University in South Korea, also flatly rejected the claims that Kim is unwell.

Speaking on BBC Newshour on Monday, Delury said there is "very little evidence" to support such claims, but abundant "hearsay."

"Two weeks' absence should give rise, certainly, to our attention," he said, but "probably doesn't merit the degree of speculation it's receiving."

Those rumors have been fueled, at least in part, by reports of panic-buying in the North. But according to Delury, there's nothing connecting the panic-buying to Kim's health.

"I'm not sure that that is connected in any way with the health of the leader," Delury told BBC. "Bear in mind, you know, the same thing that the whole world is grappling with — this COVID pandemic — is also affecting North Korea. In fact, that could be ultimately the explanation for why Kim Jong Un is avoiding crowds."

Kim Jong Un has been out of the public eye for weeks

Rumors about Kim's health were triggered by his absence at one of North Korea's most celebrated holidays on April 15: the birthday of his grandfather and country's founder, Kim Il Sung.

In fact, Kim hasn't been spotted in public since April 11 when he presided over a Politburo meeting.

Silence from the famously secretive country's state media fanned the hype — at least until Monday when news emerged that Kim has sent a thank-you note to workers and officials at a tourist resort construction site near where his personal train was recently spotted, South Korea-based Yonhap News Agency said.

South Korea's unification minister has downplayed the rumors, saying Kim is handling state affairs from the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang, according to the Associated Press. Neither the North's military nor the Workers' Party has issued an emergency readiness order, which would occur in case something were to happen to Kim, officials said.

The rumors were first sparked by an April 21 CNN report saying that Kim is in "grave danger." A US official whose identity was withheld by the Associated Press said that the intelligence community continues to view these revelations about Kim as "speculation."

For his part, Delury stressed that South Korean officials wouldn't issue statements speaking to Kim's health if they were uncertain about the issue.

"They're not going to go that far out to say they're pretty sure he's fine, certainly that he's alive, unless they're really confident – because they're going to look like fools if they turn out to be wrong," he said.

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