Kim Jong Un has lost weight but remains healthy, South Korea's spy agency says

SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently lost about 20 kilograms (44 pounds) but remains healthy and tries to increase public loyalty to him in the face of worsening economic problems, the South Korean intelligence agency told lawmakers Thursday.

The National Intelligence Service gave the assessment during a closed-door parliamentary briefing, saying it used artificial intelligence techniques, analysis of a high-resolution video of Kim, and other methods to investigate Kim’s condition, two lawmakers said attended the meeting.

Kim’s health has been the focus of outside attention in recent months, as he appeared noticeably thinner in state media photos and videos. Kim, 37, has not publicly anointed a successor, and some experts say an abrupt incapacitation could wreak havoc in the impoverished nuclear country.

Despite Kim’s thinner appearance, longtime North Korean observers have said that Kim has no obvious health problems and that his weight loss is likely the result of his efforts to improve his physique. They noted that he continued his regular public activities and there were no unusual developments to be seen in North Korean videos.

However, unconfirmed rumors have continued to emerge about him, with one tabloid claiming that a scammer was used in recent public appearances. The NIS rejected this report as unfounded, said Legislator Kim Byung-kee.

He said the NIS had told the parliamentary session that Kim’s weight had dropped from about 140 kilograms (308 pounds) to 120 kilograms (264 pounds). The NIS previously said that Kim is about 170 centimeters (5 feet, 8 inches) tall.

Kim attends a Politburo meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Pyongyang on June 2, 2020.KCNA / AP

Kim has been involved in public activities for 70 days so far this year, an increase of 45 percent over the same period last year.

Lawmakers said the NIS found that Kim had removed photos of his late father and grandfather – who ruled North Korea before him – from a Labor Party conference room.

Another lawmaker, Ha Tae-keung, quoted the NIS as saying that North Korea had begun using the term “Kimjongunism,” a political ideology named after Kim Jong Un that was independent of existing ideologies named after his father and grandfather “KimJongilism” and “Kimilsungism.”

After about 10 years in office, Kim is struggling to overcome what appeared to be the most difficult period of his reign due to the aggravated economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

North Korea’s annual trade with China, its key ally and economic lifeline, fell by two-thirds to $ 185 million year-on-year by September this year, Ha said, according to NIS.

North Korean officials are grappling with soaring commodity prices and a shortage of medicines and other essentials that have accelerated the spread of water-borne diseases like typhoid. The country has also been unable to import the paper and ink it uses to print banknotes, forcing North Korean officials to issue a temporary currency, according to Has’s report on the NIS briefing.

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While reduced trade has limited supplies of materials for industrial activity, North Korean officials are pressing workers to increase production. Excessive factory operations caused an explosion in a large fertilizer factory in August, Ha quoted the NIS as saying.

The NIS confirmed recent World Health Organization reports that North Korea is beginning to relax its strict Covid-19 border restrictions in order to seek outside help.

North Korea has not yet reported any cases of the coronavirus. While experts have questioned the claim of a perfect record, Ha said the NIS has not yet seen any signs of a major Covid-19 outbreak.

Despite its strict virus-induced border controls, North Korea has not shown the same urgency for vaccines as mass vaccinations continue to be delayed due to global shortages.

Ha said North Korea has turned down offers of Russian and Chinese vaccines from outside. Kim, the lawmaker, said the NIS had determined that North Korea had also shown no interest in sourcing Pfizer vaccines, which would require negotiations with the drug company and the US

Analysts say North Korea may have concerns about international surveillance requirements tied to vaccines it receives from the outside world. There are also views that Kim Jong Un has domestic motivations for tightening the country’s self-imposed lockdown while calling for unity and trying to consolidate his power.

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