Seoul is confident that Kim is working as usual

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Seoul is confident that Kim is working as usual

Seoul can confidently conclude nothing extraordinary is going on in North Korea, said South Korea’s minister of unification on Sunday.

Kim Yeon-chul, the top inter-Korean official in Seoul, said South Korea’s intelligence had consulted a variety of sources to verify the rumors alleging that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had fallen ill or - more alarmingly - was dead.

At a forum hosted by the Korea Peace Foundation, a private bipartisan organization researching Korean reunification, Kim Yeon-chul said he could not reveal the bases behind Seoul’s conclusion, but stressed that the government had enough of an advanced intelligence capacity to make the determination that Kim Jong-un is working as usual. The statement made by the Vice Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John Hyten, that Kim Jong-un has full control of the North’s nuclear and military forces was well-founded and matched the information gathered by Seoul’s own intelligence, Kim Yeon-chul said.

A ranking figure in South Korea’s ruling party on Sunday further dismissed rumors that Kim had undergone a cardiovascular surgery, a claim first made by a local media outlet called Daily NK earlier this month.

CNN followed up with a bombshell report last week that said Kim may be in “grave danger,” citing a U.S. official who said Washington was investigating the matter. On Saturday, Reuters said in an exclusive report that China dispatched a team of medical experts to treat Kim, fuelling speculation that the dictator was indeed ill.

“These suspicions emerged after Chairman Kim Jong-un failed to attend a ceremony commemorating the birth of his grandfather, [North Korea’s founder] Kim Il Sung, on April 15,” said the ruling party source.

“But the [South Korean] government has concluded on the basis of various intelligence sources that these rumors are untrue, since there have been no signs that Chairman Kim had received any kind of medical treatment.”

Moon Chung-in, a Yonsei University professor and close foreign policy adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, also said in an interview with Fox News on Sunday that Kim was “alive and well” and staying at a place in Wonsan since April 13.

North Korean state media, which closely reports every public action undertaken by its leader, has remained mum on Kim’s personal state of affairs, but continues to produce reports that suggest he is conducting business as usual.

On Monday, the country’s official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, said Kim had sent a message thanking construction workers at the Wonsan-Kalma coastal resort construction site for their hard work. Despite the insistence by Seoul that little was out of the ordinary in the North, Kim’s continued absence from the public eye continues to fuel speculation over his health.

On Sunday, the Washington Post (WP) reported there was panic buying in Pyongyang, where people made runs on markets for a variety of consumer goods from canned food to liquor.

The report’s author, WP’s bureau chief in Beijing Anna Fifield, stressed however that the precedence of incorrect reporting on the Kim family’s health matters in the past meant nothing could be certain until North Korea makes an official announcement.

Minister Kim Yeon-chul too urged caution about speculative reporting on Kim Jong-un’s health. Calling the recent media hubbub over rumors of the dictator’s illness an “infodemic,” Minister Kim said the emergence of new forms of media and mounting political polarization around the world was contributing to a growing preference in the media for sensationalism.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO, SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]

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