China Sends Doctors to North Korea as TV Report Fuels Speculation About Kim Jong Un's Health
( Newsweek )
China has sent a team of doctors to North Korea to help determine supreme leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un's health status, Reuters reported on Friday. Hong Kong Satellite Television reported that Kim was dead, though there has been no confirmation from U.S. sources at this point. "While the US continues to monitor reports surrounding the health of the North Korean Supreme Leader, at this time, there is no confirmation from official channels that Kim Jong-un is deceased," a senior Pentagon official not authorized to speak on the record told 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." Kim's last confirmed public appearance was on April 11, at a politburo meeting, though state media also shared footage of him attending aerial assault drills the following day. It was his absence from April 15 Day of the Sun celebrations dedicated to his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, that first sparked speculation regarding his well-being. On Monday, rumors spread that the North Korean leader was in ill health after undergoing heart surgery on April 12, sparked by an anonymous source featured in the South Korea-based Daily NK outlet, a publication linked to a U.S. Congress-funded think tank among other institutions, along with a CNN article citing an unnamed U.S. official that said Kim was in grave danger following the operation. These rumors were subsequently discounted by U.S. intelligence, with two U.S. officials telling Newsweek on Tuesday they had no reason to think that Kim had suffered any kind of serious illness. Similarly, at the time, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency cited a government official who said there was nothing unusual coming from North Korea that could suggest Kim was ill. The South Korean Foreign Ministry did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment the following day, but referred to a Blue House statement in which the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in also said no unusual activity related to North Korea or the health of its dynast had been reported. Should the reports of Kim's death prove accurate, there are a number of questions over who would be his successor. Some have speculated that his younger sister Kim Yo Jong, reported to be 31 and one of Kim's key lieutenants, would take over the role of supreme leader.