UPDATE: Numerous sources are now confirming that Kim Jong-un underwent heart surgery. It is still a matter of contention whether he is recovering or in serious condition.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in “grave danger” following a recent surgery, according to multiple sources. In poor physical shape and a heavy smoker, Kim is a likely candidate for heart issues, but the South Korean government may not think big trouble is brewing in Pyongyang just yet. A source told Yonhap News Agency, a government-funded media publication, that Seoul has not seen any unusual signs regarding Kim’s health.
Could the conflicting stories be an attempt to spread disinformation or are news organizations overly eager to publish without checking facts? Asian financial markets are certainly taking the reports seriously, even if many media agencies are hedging their bets.
“Grave Danger After a Surgery”
The story apparently started on April 15, the nation’s most important holiday – The Day of the Sun. The annual event celebrates the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the man who founded the country and the incumbent leader’s grandfather. Kim Jong-un missed the festivities that consist of military parades and satellite launches. There was immediate speculation surrounding the dictator’s health because he had been seen four days earlier at a Workers’ Party politburo meeting.
Daily NK, a South Korea-based internet newspaper that covers news about its neighbor to the north, reported that Kim underwent a cardiovascular system procedure on April 12. He received treatment because of his “excessive smoking, obesity, and overwork,” and the newspaper claims that he is resting in a villa in Hyangsan County. Most of the medical staff treating Kim reportedly returned to Pyongyang on April 19, though a few of them stayed behind to monitor his recovery.
CNN released a report that stated his health is in “grave danger after a surgery.” They say that a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed the development to the news organization, while another U.S. official told the outlet that the concerns are legitimate, but it is hard to assess the severity.
Asian Markets React
Asian financial markets cratered on the developing story as the leading indexes were deep in the red.
Following the breaking news, South Korea’s Kospi slumped 1.5%, and the Kosdaq index plummeted more than 3%. Victek, an aerospace defense firm, saw its shares spike 30%. North Korea-exposed stocks, such as Hanil Hyundai Cement and Hyundai Elevator, tumbled on the developing story.
The Nikkei shed 300 points, the Shanghai Composite Index slumped 1.1%, and the Hang Seng plunged more than 500 points.
The Korean won declined 1.48% against the U.S. dollar to trade at 1,239.35.
News in Pyongyang
Reporting from inside the reclusive state is incredibly hard due to the restrictions and controls on information.
Despite the Coronavirus dominating international headlines, Pyongyang had been still able to garner worldwide attention. The government fired off several short-range missiles at the end of March and during Kim Il-sung’s birthday celebration, prompting national security concerns for the U.S.
The situation in North Korea has long been open to speculation. State-run news sources, major disinformation campaigns, and a press entirely controlled by the ruling government equate to poor quality information making it to the outside world. Whether Kim is recovering or whether he even had surgery in the first place, it is clear that truth is the real casualty of a politicized media.
Read more from Andrew Moran.