North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un was reportedly absent from celebrations for the country’s most important political holiday on Wednesday, an unusual occurrence that raises speculation regarding exposure to the Chinese coronavirus.
State media coverage of Wednesday’s Day of the Sun holiday made no reference to “Marshal Kim Jong-un,” suggesting that he was not present for the celebrations. The holiday was Kim Il-sung’s birthday, the dictator’s grandfather and founder of the communist tyranny.
The regime usually celebrates Kim Il-sung’s birthday with large-scale military parades, but did not do so this year in an attempt to maintain “social distancing” policies to slow the spread of Chinese coronavirus.
According to the Korean Central News Agency (KNCA), only a group of senior regime, party, and military officials visited Kim Il-Sung’s embalmed body at the Kumsusan Palace in Pyongyang to pay their respects.
“Senior officials of the Party and government and leading officials of the armed forces organs visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun on Wednesday, the 108th birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung,” the agency noted, adding that they also laid floral baskets before paying “high tribute” to statues of him and his son, the late Kim Jong-il.
South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency notes that Kim has not missed visiting the mausoleum during the holiday since coming to power in 2011, with state media typically reporting his activities by the following morning at the latest.
His absence raises questions as to if he may be avoiding or already be infected with the Chinese coronavirus, which many analysts believe has badly affected the country. Due to the country’s highly secretive nature, it is impossible to verify its impact or how many lives have been lost. The regime has so far refused to confirm one single case. Yet given its poor health care system and proximity to China, it is likely that the impact has been severe.
Last month, the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported that over 100 North Korean soldiers stationed at the Chinese border had died from the virus. The South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo also claimed that Kim was spending “considerable time” away from the capital of Pyongyang in Wonsan, a port city that Kim has for years attempted to turn into a beach resort, for fear of contracting the virus.
One official from South Korea’s unification ministry told Yonhap News Agency that Kim had made a similar visit in February to the tomb of Kim Jong-il, his grandfather.
“It would be very unusual if Kim proves not to visit there,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “There could be various analyses, including the easiest connection with COVID-19, but we need more time for our own.”