North Korean leader King Jong-un is on a diet. That’s the best guess of experts in South Korea who make a living talking and writing about Dear Leader’s health and appearance.
Well… it’s a living.
These experts say that if the weight loss was health-related, there would be other noticeable symptoms.
In recent state media images, including those published on Wednesday, Kim appeared to have lost a large amount of weight. The strap on his fancy watch is tighter, and his face thinner. Some observers say Kim — who is about 170 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall and has previously weighed 140 kilograms (308 pounds) — may have lost about 10-20 kilograms (22-44 pounds).
Kim’s apparent weight loss is more likely an attempt to improve his health, rather than a sign of illness, according to Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.
Or could it be a sign that North Korea is running out of food?
The state news media is reporting that Kim told the Communist Central Committee of North Korea that the food situation had become “tense” as there appears to be about a 1.5 million-ton shortage of grains compared to last year. He’s making the food shortage a “top priority.”
The tense food situation was brought about by extensive flooding. The last time the flooding was this bad was in the 1990s when upwards of two million people died of starvation.
“In particular, the people’s food situation is now getting tense as the agricultural sector failed to fulfill its grain production” after flood damage, Kim was quoted as saying in the meeting. “It is essential for the whole Party and state to concentrate on farming.”
This isn’t the first time Kim has publicly acknowledged his failures. Last October, during a speech to the military, he could barely hold back tears talking about how screwed up the economy was, saying it was his fault and he promised to do better.
But tears aren’t going to help with millions of people at risk of starving to death.
So far, no sign has emerged from North Korea that the country is in danger of another devastating famine, but South Korean reporters monitoring market prices in North Korea said that the price of rice has been rising sharply in recent weeks.
Many essential goods, including medicine, are also becoming more scarce, as the pandemic forced North Korea to close its border with China, its only major trading partner, said Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Asia Press International, a website in Japan that monitors North Korea with the help of clandestine correspondents inside the country.
Some families have begun selling furniture to raise cash for food, Mr. Ishimaru said. The number of homeless children scavenging for food is also on the rise in some parts of the country, though it is difficult to reliably assess the situation, given North Korea’s isolation, he said.
Kim told the Central Committee that the danger time would begin in August and go through at least October. That’s not a lot of time to organize the kind of large-scale relief effort that could stave off disaster.
Kim’s only hope is in China. The Chinese Communists are terrified that another famine will start an exodus from North Korea. And since the people have been told for decades that they would be slaves if they lived in South Korea, their only option will be to head to China. This would place a refugee burden on China that they neither need nor want.
But could China organize that kind of international relief effort and could they do it in time? Kim hasn’t hit the panic button yet, although his admission at the Central Committee meeting demonstrates that the situation is potentially dire. China will almost certainly do anything to avoid the nightmare scenario of millions of North Koreans trying to get into the country.
Kim is in no danger of being deposed. The military knows that they will be fed no matter what happens to the population at large. It appears likely that as in past economic crises, Kim will skate through and emerge unscathed and unbowed.