Kim Jong-un’s long absence from the public cannot be explained by self-isolation during the pandemic, the Express reported, citing Asia political expert Gordon Chang. Chang questioned the alibi that North Korean state media has offered, saying while it is possible that the leader was following the safety rules introduced to curb the spread of the disease, his behavior suggests that there was a bigger issue.
"Kim Jong-un, as ruler, has never missed an April 15th celebration. The day of the Sun celebrates the birth of his grandfather and regime founder, Kim Il-sung. Even if Kim Jong-un was self-isolating because of coronavirus, he would have issued a statement and he didn't. He also wasn't around for the anniversary of the Korean People's Army. Again he did not issue a statement, and to me that says he was not able to", Chang told the newspaper, adding that there was some sort of emergency.
The expert noted that it would be very difficult to find out the real cause behind Mr. Kim’s disappearance given the fact that North Korea is one of the most secretive societies. "This is a non-transparent regime and they don’t like admitting any time of fallibility on the part of a Kim ruler", Chang told the Express .
In April, major new agencies started speculating on Kim Jong-un’s health, as he had not appeared in the state media since 12 April and missed the birth anniversary of his grandfather Kim Il-sung, the most important holiday in North Korea.
A report from a website run by North Korean defectors claimed Kim Jong-un had been struggling with cardiovascular problems. This led to further rumours, which reached a boiling point after US media reported that the ruler, said to be in his mid-thirties, was in critical condition following a botched surgery. The claim was dismissed by the South Korean government and Chinese intelligence.
Media speculation ended after North Korean state media showed Kim cutting a ribbon at the opening of a fertilizer factory on 1 May. The news however did not calm the rumours and did not persuade Kim’s friend, basketball star Dennis Rodman. Rodman, who befriended Kim Jong-un in 2013, said "something wrong" was going on in North Korea.
"If you see his sister on TV running the country, now you know something is wrong", Rodman said in an interview with Good Morning Britain, referring to Kim Jong-un’s sister Kim Yo-jong, who is believed to be next in line to run North Korea.