News & Politics

Kim Jong-un Has Lost Weight, But Will That Save Him and His Regime?

(AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Rumors of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s demise can be put aside. The dictator appeared in public on Thursday for the first time in several months and Kim watchers in South Korea are saying that dear leader has lost about 45 pounds and may have been working out.

Whatever he did, he looks absolutely fabulous, don’t you think?

It’s a season of discontent in North Korea. Actually, no one is saying anything against the regime out loud, but the sick and starving masses of people make an eloquent statement for regime opponents.

Kim himself warned of a famine that will arrive sometime before the end of the year. Worse, the pandemic has apparently made life a living hell in several rural areas where there isn’t much in the way of medical help.

The economy couldn’t get much worse, but of course, it is getting worse. The nation is broke, it has no access to foreign markets or international financial assistance. Only China has offered any assistance, but that’s not likely to be enough once the bodies start dropping.

Business Insider:

With little independent information coming from the secretive country, its leader’s weight and health – and the health of the country – have long been sources of speculation, Insider’s Ryan Pickrell reported.

South Korea’s spy agency, the National Intelligence Service, said in November that Kim weighed about 300 pounds, which would make him severely obese.

But over time – and notably in the past year – North Korea watchers have noted a seemingly shrinking waistline. By July, the NIS said he had likely lost 22 to 44 pounds.

It’s nearly impossible to penetrate the veil of secrecy that surrounds the North Korean state. It’s believed South Korean intelligence has some assets but they share very little information with the United States.

They certainly weren’t going to glean much intel from North Korea’s bizarre midnight military parade to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the nation’s founding.

CNN:

During the parade, planes flew above Pyongyang firing flares, and paratroopers dropped from aircraft in the night sky, Rodong Sinmun said.

Down in the street, marching bands led a parade, which included laborers, research units and an “emergency disease prevention unit,” it added. Images of the parade showed a large contingent of marchers dressed in orange hazmat-style suits and gas masks.

The notoriously reclusive country severed almost all of its ties with the outside world in 2020 to prevent an influx of coronavirus cases. And to date, it seems to have worked.

Both China and North Korea have done an excellent job of keeping a lid on the severity of the pandemic. Indeed, Kim Jong-un has been fanatical about enforcing pandemic restrictions, reportedly executing several members of the Politburo for allowing some outbreaks earlier this summer.

The discontent among the elites is the real danger zone for Kim, and he knows it. Before the next famine ends, he will have his hands full trying to maintain his position as an absolute and unquestioned leader. He is in full control of his family after executing his half-brother Kim Jong-nam and uncle Jang Song-thaek. And he is fully in control of the Communist apparatus — the Korean Workers Party and the secret police.

But there’s no indication that Kim has repaired his relationship with the nation’s military. And heading into a food and economic crisis, that’s not good news.

The military opposed Kim’s ascension from the start. But now, Kim has reduced the importance of the military in North Korean society and that doesn’t sit well with the generals.

Aspen Institute:

Angering the military has had consequences, and although outsiders do not know exactly what they are, the symptoms of Kim-military discord are evident. This spring, Kim replaced his defense minister and top two generals in the army

Of these changes, the replacement of Kim Jong Gak by Kim Su Gil as director of the army’s General Political Bureau most suggests turbulence. Kim Jong Gak was in his post only since February.

And then late last month we learned Kim had a lieutenant general, Hyon Ju Song, put to death in a public spectacle.

Kim was able to keep a lid on the military during the last famine by making sure the soldiers were fed before anyone else. This bred enormous resentment in the countryside and it’s unlikely that this policy could be implemented again without violence.

So Kim is in trouble and slimming down might be one sign that the dictator is looking to head off disaster by giving his enemies one less thing to hold against him.