South Korean officials say 'coronavirus concerns,' not heart surgery, sidelined Kim Jong Un
South Korean lawmakers said Wednesday there is no evidence to suggest that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un underwent heart surgery and that his unusual recent public absence was likely due to concerns over the coronavirus.
Members of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee told reporters after a briefing with the National Intelligence Service (NIS) that the reports that Kim had a heart issue or underwent a procedure were “groundless.”
“The NIS assesses that at least he did not get any heart-related procedure or surgery,” said committee member Kim Byung-kee. “He was normally performing his duties when he was out of the public eye.”
“Kim Jong Un had focused on consolidating internal affairs such as military forces and party-state meetings, and coronavirus concerns have further limited his public activity,” the lawmaker added.
Kim did not make any public appearances between April 11 and May 1. His absence at the April 15 ceremony marking the birthday of his grandfather and founder of the modern North Korean state Kim Il Sung, a major holiday in the secretive nation, sparked speculation that Kim was unwell.
A South Korean news outlet later reported that Kim was recovering from a cardiovascular procedure, and CNN said U.S. officials indicated the strongman could be in “grave danger” after surgery.
South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul had previously suggested that Kim’s absence was not particularly surprising in light of the country’s stringent efforts to block the coronavirus from spreading in North Korea. The country has said it has no confirmed COVID-19 cases, though that claim has been difficult for international monitors to verify.
Kim ultimately resurfaced on May 1 to cut the tape to mark the completion of a fertilizer plant in Sunchon, north of Pyongyang.