Where Is Kim Jong-un? And 6 More Questions About North Korea's Leader
It has been 34 days since the world last saw North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un in public and the rumor mill is working overtime. Bloggers are drooling at every new conspiracy theory but experts aren't sweating. Yet.
"There is nothing serious going on," University of Georgia Professor Han Park told ABC News. "We should not overreact but we should watch closely to see if there's any maneuvering of any kind."
When Kim Jong-un skipped out on a session of the Supreme People's Assembly last month, it raised some eyebrows, according to the South Korean Chosun Ilbo newspaper, citing a Pyongyang source. Maybe he is on a yacht somewhere? Deserted island?
Thanks to North Korean State Media's die-hard loyalty, the Western media has grown accustomed to seeing the Hermit Kingdom's 31-year-old frontman on a regular basis ( often looking at things). So, where is he now?
1. Is he sick?
For the first time last week, North Korean State TV admitted Kim was in an "uncomfortable physical condition." Full stop, no additional detail. Is it gout? The speculation commenced. Did he have a stroke? Some blamed the rich cheese he reportedly grew fond of during his high school years in Switzerland, others blamed heavy drinking.
Both his father and grandfather were portly, and State News reported his father had been treated for "cardiac and cerebrovascular diseases for a long period" before dying of a heart attack in 2011. So is it heart disease? Diabetes?
To be clear, Kim is not a healthy guy. At 5-foot-9, he weighs in at an estimated 280 pounds. That's nearly 130 pounds more than the average male of that height and classified as obese by the National Institutes of Health. Though like much of what is reported out of North Korea, ABC News was unable to independently verify his weight. This brings us to the leading conspiracy theory below.
2. Did he fracture his ankle because he's too heavy?
Or worse, both ankles?
In July, State TV showed the dear leader limping, fueling suspicion that something was wrong with his feet. And later, reports surfaced that he was having surgery on both ankles.
"I think he's physically uncomfortable," said Professor Park. "He cannot walk very well."
So is the weight to blame for his ankle injuries? Maybe, but a report in The Telegraph suggests the real culprit are his Cuban-made heels. He reportedly sprained both ankles first and later the injuries developed into fractures.
Crutches or no crutches, Professor Park said if Kim is dealing with fractured ankles, his absence can be explained simply: "He doesn't want to be seen in a less-than-perfect physical posture."
3. Could he be overseas getting medical care?
Analysts say it's unlikely he would be flown out of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. In 2008, North Korea flew in a French neurosurgeon Francois-Xavier Roux from Paris to treat an ailing Kim Jong-il. They would likely do the same if necessary for the young Kim.
4. And by the way, where is his wife?
Little is known about Ri Sol-ju, Kim's wife of five years. She too has been out of sight since Sept. 3 and analysts say symbolically it would look weak if she made a solo appearance.
The couple has one daughter and last winter it was rumored that Ri was pregnant again. But no baby announcement yet this year.
5. Was there a coup?
"If it's a bloodless coup, we may not see anything," said Victor Cha, Senior Adviser and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "If it's not a bloodless coup, we would see infighting."
Stoking fears of a Pyongyang power struggle, over the weekend, high-ranking North Korean officials made a surprise visit to the South. The first of its kind in five years, the delegation was headed by North Korea's No. 2, Hwang Pyong-so.
"This visit over the weekend was very unusual," and worth paying attention to said Cha. It appears the delegation returned to the North without incident.
6. When should we start to worry?
Analysts say we'll likely hear something from Kim Jong-un soon, perhaps a statement or a picture, to reassure the dear people of North Korea that he is alive.
"If something was truly wrong, we would start to see troop movements. We would start to see military maneuvering near the borders," said Joel Wit, founder of 38North.com and a senior fellow at the U.S.-Korean Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
Our eyes are peeled for any unusual movements, but for now, we're watching to see if Kim shows up in public on Oct. 10, the 69th anniversary of the founding of its ruling Worker's Party. The great mystery continues.