A government-run television station in North Korea aired an interview with an alleged average citizen lamenting that communist dictator Kim Jong-un seemed “emaciated” in recent appearances, South Korean media reported Sunday.
North Korea severely represses all expression, especially freedom of the press, and only regime-approved content appears on its airwaves. The interview in question appeared on Korean Central Television (KCTV), the television analog to the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Friday, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap. The interview followed the publication of images of Kim in state media that appeared to show significant weight loss on the dictator’s part. Keen observers noted that, in addition to a more slender figure and a slimmer face, Kim appeared to be wearing his watch several notches tighter than he was in prior public appearances.
The mid-June images of Kim Jong-un prompted speculation around the world that Kim had either begun taking his health seriously – the 37-year-old has appeared notoriously obese for most of his public life – or that he was battling an unknown illness. Prior to this weekend, neither North Korean officials nor the country’s state media had offered any clarification regarding the change. South Korean outlets speculated that Kim may be losing weight to show solidarity with his citizens, who are facing increasingly severe food shortages in light of extreme flooding in the nation’s agricultural heartland last year and lockdowns triggered by the Chinese coronavirus pandemic.
“The people were most heartbroken to see the respected General Secretary looking thinner,” a man presented as an average North Korean citizen said in an interview on KCTV on Friday, according to Yonhap. “Everyone is saying that they are moved to tears.”
NK News, an outlet that specializes in coverage of the communist country, noted that the same broadcast featured effusive praise for Kim’s alleged actions to improve the nation’s food security. Adding to theories that Kim is attempting to lose weight as a propaganda effort for his food security policies, an unnamed source suggested to the conservative South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo on Monday that Kim “is trying to show North Koreans that he is skipping meals and working hard in order to overcome the North’s food shortage.”
Other government propaganda outlets have yet to address the interview about Kim’s weight, though they did appear to focus on the theme of sacrifice on the part of communist leaders – in contrast with North Korea’s typical reality, in which communist leaders enjoy lavish lifestyles while starving and oppressing the majority of the country. On Monday, the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun warned that, if members of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) “disregard the people at a critical moment … the revolution will be spoiled and the destiny of the country will come to sad ruin.”
“Now is the time for the entire Party to share ideology and will with the respected General Secretary and make redoubled efforts for the people,” Rodong Sinmun insisted. “All the Party organizations, officials and Party members should firmly consolidate the revolutionary ranks by thoroughly embodying the Party’s people-first politics and go all out for the struggle to bring about a continuous upsurge in socialist construction.”
KCNA relayed similar language on Sunday from Kim himself, citing his multiple appearances at a WPK bureaucratic meeting last week.
“The respected General Secretary Kim Jong Un stressed at the historic Third Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea that it is high time to give full play to the indomitable revolutionary spirit,” KCNA asserted, “and the fighting traits of self-reliance and fortitude, the vital power peculiar to the Korean revolution.”
At the referenced meeting, Kim admitted the country was running out of food and on the brink of famine.
“The subjective and objective conditions and environment for the revolutionary struggle have become worse upon entering this year but the country’s economy has shown improvement as a whole,” Kim reportedly said, according to state media. “Saying that in particular, the people’s food situation is now getting tense as the agricultural sector failed to fulfill its grain production plan due to the damage by [the] typhoon last year, he stressed that the plenary meeting should take a positive measure for settling the problem.”
Other top officials at the party meeting insisted on redirecting the nation’s attention towards ensuring a “good crop” the next year, blaming “natural disaster” for the food shortages – a change from Pyongyang’s typical claims that American-led global sanctions are responsible for its economic woes. While under unprecedentedly strict sanction by the United Nations Security Council since 2017 for its illegal nuclear weapons program, illicit trade with China typically keeps North Korea’s economy afloat. Experts believe North Korea has largely shut down that trade since the Chinese coronavirus pandemic began in late 2019.
The North Korean communist regime has repeatedly told the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) it has documented zero coronavirus cases within its borders, despite its proximity to the origin nation of the virus and countries with uncontrolled disease spread such as Russia.
The food shortages have made it nearly impossible for impoverished North Koreans to keep up with fluctuating prices, a report by Radio Free Asia (RFA) this month revealed.
“I don’t understand why food prices and exchange rates are constantly changing. Yesterday the exchange rate for the U.S. dollar was 6,100 won, but it went down to 5,300 in the evening,” an unnamed North Korean told the outlet.
In October, following a summer of near-nationwide flooding, Kim Jong-un apologized to his people while crying during a nationally televised speech.
“Our people have placed trust, as high as sky and as deep as sea, on me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily. I am really sorry for that,” Kim said. “Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country … my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their life.”