Kim Jong Un appeared noticeably slimmer as he was pictured in North Korean state propaganda this week – the first time in a month that he has been seen in public.
The despot was shown leading an economic meeting that is said to have taken place on Monday, and seemed to have lost weight around his chin, chest and arms.
That has set off fresh speculation about the ‘Supreme Leader’s’ health, a year after he is thought to have suffered a major health scare during a prolonged public absence – sparking false rumours that he had died.
MARCH 2021/JUNE 2021: Kim Jong Un appeared noticeably slimmer in recent propaganda images released by North Korea, sparking fresh speculation about his health
Observers have long warned that Kim’s health presents probably the largest single threat to his brutal dynasty, and speculate that his slimming waist is a sign he is re-exerting control
While that absence has never been officially explained, it is widely thought that Kim was suffering some kind of health issue – a view reinforced by the fact that he has appeared far less frequently in public since.
His party has also been restructured to give a clear deputy role to his sister, Kim Yo-jong, amid speculation that she was being groomed as a possible successor.
State propaganda has also been restructured to give more prominence to the powerful Party Central Committee and less to Kim.
Experts now believe that Kim’s shrinking waist could be a sign that his health is recovering, and foreshadow his return to a more prominent role at the head of the country’s brutally repressive regime.
While Kim’s weight has long been the subject of mockery, observers have pointed out that it also represents perhaps the largest single threat his family dynasty.
Observers believe Kim, in his mid-30s, weighed a whopping 22st (308lbs) in November last year as well as being a heavy smoker.
That was at a time when Covid was believed to be circulating in the country, with obesity and lung issues both significantly raising the risk of death from infection.
Kim is thought to have three children but none old enough to assume leadership of the country if he dies.
JUNE 2021: Since his health scare last year, Kim has appeared in public less and delegated more powers – but experts believe that could be coming to an end as he trims down (pictured)
FEBRUARY 2021: Kim is thought to have tipped the scales at 22st (308lbs) at his heaviest and is known to be a frequent smoker
North Korea’s strict Paektu bloodline succession would potentially put sister Kim Yo-jong next in line to inherit, but it is far from clear that she would be able to command the respect of the country’s military leaders.
That could spark a bloody power struggle and threaten the Kim dynasty which has ruled North Korea since father-of-the-nation Kim Il-sung came to power in 1948.
Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told NK News that Kim’s weight-loss ‘likely improves his position at home.’
‘That in turn provides more predictability perhaps for regional actors like Japan, [South Korea ] and the US who may have greater confidence that he will be running the show,’ he added.
Kim was already noticeably over-weight when he came to power in 2011, following the death of his father Kim Jong-il.
His weight continued to balloon as he tightening his grip on the country, carrying out a wave of assassinations thought to include the murder of his own half-brother – Kim Jong-nam – who was poisoned with a nerve agent at Malaysia’s main airport.
DECEMBER 2011: Kim was already noticeably over-weight when he took power (pictured) but his weight has continued to balloon ever since, potentially threatening his regime’s survival
But his size increased most in recent years as he pushed the country’s nuclear programme – begun under his grandfather and pursued by his father despite crippling international sanctions – to completion in 2017.
He then embarked on a series of unprecedented international deplomacy missions, including the first-ever sit-down talks between a North Korean leader and US President when he met Trump for two summits between 2018 and 2019.
Hailed as a major diplomatic victory for the North – and scorned as a humiliation for the US by Trump’s critics – the meetings put a stop to North Korea’s long-range missile tests but failed to achieve any tangible gains for the Kim regime.
Then, in 2020, Kim suffered what is believed to have been a major health scare that saw him absent from public for 20 days including missing birthday celebrations for his grandfather – an event that no North Korean leader has missed before.
That sparked heated speculation including a rumour that he had died during a heart operation which ultimately turned out to be false.
Even when Kim did reappear in public, eagle-eyed observers pointed to marks on his wrist as possible evidence of heart surgery while others theorised it was in fact a body double and the North Korean leader was still desperately ill.
Kim’s many public appearances since have put paid to rumours of his death, but he has notably taken longer breaks from public view and a less-prominent role in running the ruling Communist Party.