Kim Jong-un, who hasn’t been seen in public for more than three weeks, was absent from a gathering of top party and government officials on Thursday, state television showed, fuelling speculation that health problems may be keeping the 31-year-old out of the public eye.
Kim failed to attend a session of the North Korean parliament for the first time since coming to power almost three years ago, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.
But analysts warned against reading too much into Kim’s absence. “Kim Jong Il didn’t attend every time, either,” said Chris Green, a North Korea expert at Seoul-based Daily NK website. “Moreover, we know that the SPA primarily performs a demonstrative function, it is not a true decision-making body.”
At the parliamentary meeting, state media said Choe Ryong Hae had been removed from the post of vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, a body chaired by Kim. Choe Ryong Hae was replaced by Hwang Pyong So, member of a powerful faction created in the 1970s by the father of the current leader, to boost a personality cult around his family.
Choe had been widely seen as a new right-hand man to Kim Jong Un after he purged his uncle last year, but had since fallen back into the shadows.