North Korea’s state-run media outlets dedicated much of their attention on Tuesday to dictator Kim Jong-un sending birthday greetings and gifts to various North Koreans and to Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s second-in-command.
The state media reports follow a series of news reports in which American media outlets and personalities claimed, among other things, that Kim was in “grave danger” as a result of health complications; that he was “brain dead;” that he may or may not have contracted the Chinese coronavirus; and that he may or may not have undergone sensitive heart surgery recently.
None of these reports have been confirmed by anyone on the record. South Korean officials denied having any information relating to any catastrophic health event in Kim Jong-un’s life. Due to the highly secretive nature of the communist regime, however, most reports about the internal politics of the nation are difficult to confirm.
North Korean state media can hardly be expected to confirm something like Kim’s potential brain death given that it would pose an existential threat to the regime. North Korea has, however, confirmed that Kim did not attend an event to honor his grandfather Kim Il-sung’s birthday, the most important holiday in the country, this weekend. North Korean media also confirmed the urgent construction of a new hospital in Pyongyang, a bizarre project for a country that claims not to have any coronavirus cases documented domestically.
Last month, Rodong Sinmun, the state newspaper, announced the development of the Pyongyang General Hospital and claimed that Kim had offered an address regarding the hospital while publicly in Pyongyang. Kim reportedly stated that his regime was “feeling miserably self-critical of the fact that there is no perfect and modern medical service establishment even in the capital city,” but did not mention the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
The hospital’s construction is about halfway done as of Tuesday, according to state newspaper Rodong Sinmun. Outside reporters have no way of confirming the state claim.
“Builders are going ahead with the ground concrete tamping through an offensive of loyalty, fierce all-night struggle and daring blitz, aware that they are in charge of the construction given the greatest priority and concern by the Workers’ Party of Korea,” Rodong Sinmun insisted.
On Tuesday, the Pyongyang Times, another government propaganda outlet, published multiple reports claiming that Kim was largely dedicated to celebrating birthdays.
“Supreme Leader sends birthday spreads to persons of merit,” one article announced, identifying the “persons of merit” as a “labor hero” and a technology researcher.
Another article reported that Kim “sent a birthday spread to Yon Hyong Mae, a woman centenarian living in Haean District of Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, on her 100th birthday.”
The articles did not detail what gifts the birthday spreads contained.
North Korean media also claimed that Kim contacted Miguel Díaz-Canel – Cuba’s “president,” who answers to dictator Raúl Castro – to send him birthday well-wishes on Tuesday.
Kim “was pleased that the Cuban people have achieved great successes in their efforts to firmly protect the gains of socialism and make socio-economic development, smashing the frantic sanctions and blockade of the hostile forces, under the leadership of the president,” the Pyongyang Times claimed.
Cuba is one of North Korea’s closest allies. Díaz-Canel most recently visited Pyongyang in November 2018 on a tour that also included stops in China.
Several other reports in North Korean state media endeavored to claim that Kim has had contact with the outside world. Last weekend, Kim reportedly sent a congratulatory note to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, another left-wing ally, on the occasion of Syria’s Independence Day.
The message extended warm congratulations to the president, government and people of Syria on behalf of the DPRK [North Korea] government and people on the occasion of the 74th anniversary of its independence, a significant national holiday of the Syrian people,” Rodong Sinmun reported on Saturday.
The next day, Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim had sent a similar message to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president of Zimbabwe, for that country’s independence day.
Notably, none of these messages require Kim to appear in public, fueling speculation that his health situation has deteriorated. Nor did other reports today on Kim’s activities, such as a Rodong Sinmun article on Kim visiting a restaurant in 2012.
Reports began surfacing in South Korean media in March that Kim had fled Pyongyang fearing the Chinese coronavirus. Kim reportedly traveled to Wonsan, a port town Kim has for years tried to turn into a beachfront resort city, and stayed there for many weeks. While some reports indicated Kim had since returned to Pyongyang, he did not appear at key political meetings last week and did not visit his grandfather’s altar for Kim Il-sung’s birthday, resulting in questions regarding the unprecedented absence.
Speculation regarding Kim’s health status escalated on Monday evening as CNN reported that American officials were monitoring intelligence on Kim’s health. As Kim is believed to be obese and suffer from chronic health issues, the U.S. government monitoring him amid a pandemic that has proven particularly deadly to people with pre-existing conditions is, in isolation, expected. CNN claimed, however, that an unnamed person familiar with the North Korean government said Kim was in “grave danger.”
Following the publication of the report, NBC News’ Katy Tur claimed that Kim was “brain dead” on Twitter but later apologized for the statement.