September 27, 2020

Kim Jong-un and the brutal North Korea rumour mill

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has appeared at a fertiliser factory, looking remarkably cheerful for a man killed off by rumour and some of the world’s media last week. These will be carefully staged and timed photos, but what can we learn about the North Korea rumour mill from this and past episodes?

TMZ – among others – had him for dead; Chinese social media whispered that his doctors were too scared to operate and so he died before a Chinese medical team arrived – an apparent cautionary tale of being a casualty of your own fearsome power.

This is not the first time the North Korean leader has disappeared from public view. In February, he was absent for almost three weeks without wild speculation. In 2014, he was absent for 40 days – then the rumours went that he had been ousted in a political coup.

He turned up with a walking stick. It was not a coup, but perhaps gout.

South Korean intelligence later reported that he had undergone surgery on his ankle. Obviously none of this was confirmed by the North. They just kept pumping out the jocular photo opportunities from inspections and other public events seemingly untouched by rampant rumours – just as they have done today.

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