North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks during the 6th Conference of Cell Secretaries of the Workers` Party of Korea in Pyongyang in April. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s monthlong disappearance from state media has fueled speculation over his whereabouts, as it marked his longest absence this year.
The last time Kim appeared in a public setting was on May 6 when he held a photo session with military family members, according to state media.
Since then, there have been reports of him sending letters to foreign leaders and his people, but he was not seen in any official events.
When asked whether the Seoul government detects anything unusual about Kim’s hiatus, the Unification Ministry on Friday said it doesn’t have anything to add, but will continue to monitor the related situation.
Observers say Kim’s absence this time could mean that the North is mulling responses to the US’ recently completed policy review on Pyongyang and the two allies’ future action toward the reclusive regime.
Washington has publicized its commitment to engage with Pyongyang during the summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden last month in the US. Biden’s recent appointment of Sung Kim as a new special envoy for North Korea signals Washington’s readiness for dialogue with the reclusive regime, according to US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on Wednesday.
Pyongyang has not responded to the Biden administration’s diplomatic outreach since mid-February.
It is not the first time Kim has gone missing, as the leader had stayed out of the limelight from time to time since taking power in 2011.
A Unification Ministry official said earlier that the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted Kim to stay out of the public eye, except for large political activities such as the party congress in January.
Earlier this year, the leader had been noticeably absent from state media for about 20 days. No further explanation was given after he reappeared.
Last year, Kim’s three-week disappearance sparked global speculation that he was gravely ill after a botched heart surgery, while some reports suggested he was dead. The rumor mill stopped churning when Kim reappeared at a ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer plant.
By Ahn Sung-mi (email@example.com