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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#677(Special)】Kim Jong Un in Recuperation after Heart Surgery?

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2020.04.30 (Thu)

April 27, 2020

Various information has been circulating about the health of top North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. The most plausible information at present is what I have received from reliable sources: Kim took a heart surgery on April 12 and has been in recuperation at his special retreat in the eastern North Korean city of Wonsan, falling short of recovering enough to appear in public.

Not in “grave danger”

By April 17, U.S. intelligence agencies might have been informed that something unusual happened to Kim. The information was reported in various forms, prompting intelligence officials in Tokyo to make energetic efforts to confirm it. The information reached me on April 18. On April 21, the CNN cited U.S. government officials as saying there was intelligence suggesting Kim was in grave danger after undergoing a surgery. This report sparked a good deal of controversy about Kim’s health conditions. Some described him as dead or in a vegetative state.

Seoul denied the reported death of Kim, claiming that they saw no movement unusual in North Korea and that Kim was in a countryside. South Korean intelligence agencies have hard information that Kim is at a special retreat in Wonsan. Whether he has undergone a surgery has not been specified by Seoul. The head of the Institute for National Security Strategy under South Korea’s National Intelligence Service declared that Kim has a heart valve disease based on South Korean medical team’s analysis after watching Kim walking breathlessly.

U.S. President Donald Trump said the CNN report was a fake using old documents, falling short of specifying whether the fake was limited to the grave danger or included the surgery. The Trump remark does not contradict with my information mentioned above about Kim’s heart surgery. Trump’s remark can be interpreted as indicating that CNN based its report on initial U.S. government information suggesting Kim’s grave danger after a surgery while being unaware of later information denying the grave danger. In other words, Kim underwent a surgery but is not in grave danger. Senior U.S. military officers said Kim still controls North Korean armed forces including nuclear weapons.

Although the Japanese government has issued no official view, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper on April 23 reported a Japanese government view that Kim stays in Wonsan for a self-quarantine to avoid infection with the novel coronavirus and has received some medical treatment there.

Stent surgery in February

A news report from Beijing on April 26 said a group of Chinese doctors went to North Korea. But some information denies the report, noting that Pyongyang is very vigilant about China and has issued an order for leaking no information about Kim’s health conditions to China.

The latest surgery was required suddenly and conducted by North Korean doctors with no time allowed for calling foreign doctors, according to reliable sources. Almost surely, however, French cardiac specialists visited North Korea in February, conducting a stent surgery to insert a metal stent into the blood vessel of the heart for Kim. Generally, top government leader’s health conditions are kept secret. Particularly, North Korea strictly controls information on Kim’s health. The United States and China might have collected considerable information. Kim made no public appearance for 16 days to April 27.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.