South Korean Media Rumor: Kim Jong-Un Is Fine but Bodyguards Have Coronavirus

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un before a meeting with US President Donald Trump on the south side of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski …
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

A Chinese source “familiar with North Korean affairs” told Korea JoongAng Daily (KJD) on Sunday that dictator Kim Jong-un is not dead, but has gone into seclusion because at least one of his bodyguards tested positive for the coronavirus.

According to KJD’s source, Kim skipped the birthday celebration for his late predecessor and grandfather Kim Il-sung on April 15 – the point at which outside observers began noticing his absence from public life – because “there was a problem within the Supreme Guard Command in charge of guarding North Korea’s top leader.”

Specifically, the source said a member of Kim’s bodyguard detail tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus, which complicated the security arrangements for public appearances and raised the possibility that Kim himself might become infected. The North Korean regime officially maintains there have been zero cases of coronavirus infection within its borders, so Kim could not announce he was going into quarantine and could not afford to appear in public if there was the slightest chance he, or a member of his entourage, looked visibly ill.

KJD’s source disputed claims by Western media outlets that Kim has either died or suffered severe complications from heart surgery. The South Korean government also maintains that Kim is “alive and well.”

On Monday, the North Korean regime produced a letter supposedly written by Kim as proof he is alive and well. No images, sound, or other evidence was provided to accompany state media accounts of the letter, which ostensibly sent Kim’s thanks to “the workers and officials at the construction site of the Wonsan-Kalma tourist resort.”

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported on Sunday that a team of medical experts from the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing, one of China’s most elite hospitals, has been dispatched to North Korea for reasons unknown. 

Many observers speculated the team of about 50 experts, which departed China on Thursday, was sent to help with whatever condition Kim Jong-un is suffering from, whether heart failure or coronavirus. Others speculated the Chinese team is not working on Kim personally, but is quietly helping North Korea deal with the coronavirus epidemic it refuses to admit it has, or might have been sent by Beijing to assess the North Korean epidemic because the Chinese know they cannot trust reports from Pyongyang.

According to Asahi Shimbun’s sources, the team is led by a senior Chinese diplomat named Song Tao and includes doctors who normally handle the medical needs of senior Chinese Communist Party officials.

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