Kim Jong-un's apparent weight loss could spell 'trouble for the outside world': Expert
North Korea observers are trying to speculate the reason behind Kim Jong-un's apparent weight loss, with some believing it might be a sign of his deteriorating health. If this is true, there will be massive geopolitical ramifications.
The world-famous despot of the Hermit Kingdom looks considerably slimmer in photos released by state media on Saturday, June 5, after not being seen in public for nearly a month, as per The Guardian. South Korea-based NK News analyzed photos of Kim addressing a politburo meeting last week, and concluded that he appeared to have lost a “significant amount of weight.”
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Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, spoke to the outlet on Tuesday, June 8. He said Kim would likely improve "his position at home" if he lost the weight intentionally for health reasons. Narang explained that being more secure at home “in turn provides more predictability perhaps for regional actors like Japan, the ROK and the US who may have greater confidence that he will be running the show."
On the other hand, the professor offered a very different outlook if the weight loss was a result of ill health. “If [the sudden weight loss] is due to a health condition though, the jockeying for his succession may already be happening behind the scenes, and that volatility could be trouble for the outside world” if he died suddenly, Narang added.
According to NK News' forensic analysis of the newly-released photos, Kim appears thinner and the luxury watch he frequently wears was seemingly fastened more tightly than before.
In November, the South Korean National Intelligence Service told lawmakers it believed Kim weighed 308 pounds and had “gained an average of 6 to 7 kilograms per year,” or 13 to 15 pounds, since taking over the North Korean regime in late 2011.
Mike Brodka, an intelligence officer for US Special Operations Command in South Korea, also spoke to NK News about the weight loss. “On the surface, noticeable weight loss may not mean much, but it can provide clues to other information that intelligence collectors look for," he said.
“It may be a simple matter of a healthy lifestyle change or a more complex issue,” Brodka explained. “Right now, we do not know, but it raises enough serious questions that we must pay attention to events over the next couple of months to find out.”
The Guardian noted that Kim was known to be a heavy smoker and has struggled with several health conditions linked to his weight and lifestyle. In 2014, he was absent from the public eye for almost six weeks before reappearing with a walking stick. It later emerged that he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle, according to a South Korean spy agency.
Last spring, he was AWOL for nearly three weeks and sparked rumors that he had fallen seriously ill after undergoing a heart procedure. There was even speculation about his apparent death and an impostor posing for the cameras. However, a more plausible theory was that he was simply self-isolating amid the ongoing health crisis.
That said, tensions between Pyongyang and Washington DC have remained elevated since the Biden administration came to power. After the rekindling of diplomatic relations during the Trump era, current President Joe Biden took an adversarial stance against North Korea by declaring Kim's nuclear program a “serious threat to America’s security and world security" and threatening "stern deterrence" during his recent address to a joint session of Congress.
Kwon Jong Gun, North Korea's head of the Foreign Ministry’s department of US affairs, fired back saying Biden's comments were “intolerable” and reflected the “usual story” from the United States.