Kim Jong-un could be lying low to avoid the coronavirus pandemic.
Harry Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest, suggested this possibility to explain Kim’s absence. “The Kim family has a history of going on the lam when things seem to be going bad,” Kazianis told Newsweek. Now, Kazianis said, “North Korea is clearly facing the greatest existential threat in a generation as the coronavirus threatens the Kim regime’s very survival.”
He indicated that Kim’s health condition may already put him at risk for getting COVID-19. “While countless crazy rumors continue to swirl over why Kim Jong Un has not appeared in public for weeks, the most obvious explanation is he is staying out of the general population and isolating for fear of contracting the virus,” he added.
North Korea Leadership Watch blog head Michael Madden also points to a potentially similar situation involving Kim Jong Un’s father, the late supreme leader Kim Jong Il, which took place in 2003 during a time of global turmoil and another coronavirus outbreak that first appeared in neighboring China. “In contemporary North Korean history, you’d have to beat the record Kim Jong Il did. He disappeared for about three months,” Madden recently told Newsweek. “[There were] major issues, they had SARS, and we had just invaded Iraq. Those things sent him into a paranoia.”
The idea that Kim could be taking drastic quarantine measures was also supported by North Korean defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park, who cited an unnamed source within the country, as well as South Korean daily JoongAng Ilbo, which cited an anonymous Chinese source familiar with North Korean affairs.
Kim has a compound of his own in Wonsan, and the resort town is among the sites being watched in connection with the supreme leader’s recent whereabouts.