North Korean leader Kim Jong Un missed the celebration of his grandfather's birthday on April 15th, leading to speculation about the state of his health. He'd last been publicly seen at a government meeting on April 11th and, shortly afterward, a Seoul-based news website called the Daily NK reported that he'd undergone cardiovascular surgery.
According to a single source in North Korea, Kim Jong Un has been experiencing cardiovascular issues since last August, due to "excessive smoking, obesity, and overwork.” On Monday, CNN reported that Kim Jong Un was in "grave danger," according to a U.S. official who had direct knowledge of the situation.
However, Reuters has cited two South Korean government sources saying that the reports are untrue.
Andray Abrahamian, an expert on North Korea from George Mason University Korea, explained how the story about Kim's health developed.
“The Daily NK report that started this is underground single-source reporting from within the most opaque country in the world," he told BuzzFeed News. "That isn’t useless but also faces limitations. The Reuters report that picked up what Daily NK had said perhaps didn’t sufficiently caveat that. Then CNN went with a dramatic headline and anonymous sourcing from the United States that was also very vague but made it seem as if there was more credible information than there probably is.
“Then the world’s media is compelled to write something lest they be missing out on a major story.”
"When Kim Jong Il died, U.S. intel didn't know for two days," said Bruce Klingner, a former CIA analyst covering North Korea, now a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. "North Korea is the hardest of hard targets," he added, referring to the difficulty getting reliable information on events inside the country.
The fact remains that it has always been very difficult to get any information out of the notoriously closed "Hermit Kingdom." The US and South Korea learned that previous leader Kim Jong Il had died at the same time as the rest of the world. Earlier Tuesday, the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in denied that Kim was ill, saying that it could confirm he was at work and "currently touring provincial areas with his close aides."
Because Kim has no clear successor, his sudden death could leave the troubled country leaderless. Some Korea-watchers have speculated that his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, might be in the running to be a future leader.She has enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years, representing her brother at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, and issuing statements praising the United States and denouncing South Korea respectively