Japan has expressed suspicions that North Korea’s communist dictator, Kim Jong Un, may not be as well as the secretive country’s state media claims he is.
Japanese defense minister Taro Kono believes that North Korea’s renewed hostility against its southern neighbor may be an attempt to divert attention away from Kim’s ailing health.
In recent weeks, North Korea has redoubled its efforts to vilify South Korea after pro-democracy activists sent balloons across the border bearing pamphlets decrying Kim Jong Un’s authoritarian government. North Korea responded by destroying the inter-liaison office building in Kaesong, and threatened to invade the DMZ.
Speaking at the Japanese Foreign Correspondents Club in Tokyo, Taro Kono told journalists:
“We are trying to find out what is going on in North Korea. Recent movement is quite strange.”
"We suspect, number one, that COVID-19 is spreading around North Korea as well, and Kim Jong Un is trying not to (get) infected by COVID-19 so sometimes he doesn't come (out) in public,” he said, per Newsweek.
"Number two, we have some suspicion about his health. Thirdly, the harvest last year in North Korea was... bad, actually. The economy in North Korea is not doing well, so Kim Jung Un or his regime need some scapegoat so that people would look outside of North Korea,” he added.
"It could be possible that is why they are so harsh right now. So we are trying to gather information and analyse it and see what's really going on in North Korea,” he said. "We have been talking to the United States and other countries, we are exchanging information about that."
Speculation about Kim Jong Un’s health has been rife following the outbreak of the coronavirus in neighboring China. The dictator markedly disappeared for a brief period of time, and reports surfaced that he was either in a coma, or very ill due to his absence at the country’s yearly Day of the Sun festival, which commemorates the country’s late ruler, Kim Il Sung, who established North Korea with the help of the USSR and communist China.
Kim Jong Un reappeared three weeks later at the opening of a fertilizer plant, only to disappear for two more weeks before attending a meeting at the Korean Workers’ Party.
The Japanese minister believes that North Korea’s recent threats against its southern neighbor were designed to divert attention away from its leader.
"I don't have a clear answer to that but I personally believe that there are some chances it could be one of those," he said.