The state-controlled media in North Korea focused on the founding of its armed forces on Saturday as its supreme leader Kim Jong Un remained absent amid reports that a Chinese medical team was assessing his health status.
South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that television coverage in the secretive northern state spent the day trumpeting the 88th anniversary of the birth of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army (KPRA), which falls on April 25, without the nation’s chief heralding the event.
Hong Kong Satellite Television reported that the supreme leader was dead but this has not been confirmed by U.S. sources with a senior Pentagon official not authorized to speak on the record, telling Newsweek: “North Korean military readiness remains within historical norms and there is no further evidence to suggest a significant change in defensive posturing or national level leadership changes.”
China had sent a delegation, which included medical experts, to North Korea to determine the health of the leader whose last confirmed public appearance was on April 11, according to a Reuters report. Officials from Russia, China as well the U.S. President Donald Trump discounted reports that Kim was in ill health following a rumored heart surgery on April 12.
There remains speculation about his health after he was absent from the Day of the Sun celebrations on April 15, commemorating his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung. Weeks later, Kim received a floral basket from the Russian embassy marking the first anniversary of his historic visit to Russia, according to KCNA.
Cases of the novel coronavirus have existed in the country from late March in three parts of the country, despite earlier government claims that no one had been infected with the virus. North Korean officials have held lectures educating people about the virus, according to Radio Free Asia. Meanwhile, North Korea conducted its latest weapons test, with the firing of what appeared to be cruise missiles into the sea off the country’s eastern coast in the fifth round of tests since the start of this year.
In 2014, Kim disappeared for more than a month before reemerging on North Korean media sporting a limp. Renowned as a heavy smoker, and having gained weight since he assumed power in 2011 after his father Kim Jong-Il died from a heart attack, there has been speculation about his health, especially given his family history of cardiovascular problems.
Reuters reported that a South Korean source said that Kim was alive and would soon make a public appearance.
On Saturday, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on the history of the KPRA and the role Kim Il-Sung played in founding it when Korea was under Japanese colonial rule, according to Yonhap. Meanwhile Pyongyang mouthpiece, the Rodong Sinmun, emphasized Kim Jong-un’s call for strengthening the country’s military power and the army’s support for his leadership.
U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo was asked about Kim’s condition on Fox News, and responded: “I don’t have anything I can share with you tonight, but the American people should know we’re watching the situation very keenly.”