North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hasn’t been seen in nearly a week. He skipped an event Tuesday that paid tribute to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, North Korea's Supreme Leader for 46 years, fueling speculation about his potential whereabouts. Kim also has failed to appear in public as vicious flooding hit parts of the country, destroying tens of thousands of buildings and leaving many people homeless.
The last time Kim was seen was Friday when he visited the Mangyongdae Revolutionary Souvenir Factory, where state media said he provided “field guidance.” But Kim was absent from the ceremony at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun Tuesday in which top North Korean officials appeared on a guest list to pay respects to his family. Included were Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly Chairman Kim Yong Nam, political director Hwang Pyong So, Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju and Party Central Committee Vice Chairman Choe Ryong Hae. If Kim did actually attend, then the reasons why his name was omitted from the guest list are unclear, according to media reports.
During's Kim's absence, the country has also abstained from rumored plans to launch a long-range missile and a nuclear test that would have coincided with the the Tuesday anniversary. North Korea has been testing long-range missiles relatively frequently lately in what appears to be an attempt to provoke nearby South Korea and the United States just weeks before the presidential election in November. Pyongyang carried out its fifth and largest nuclear test in September, increasing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
Kim went missing at least one time before in 2014 when he was not seen publicly for over a month. It was later determined that he had been out of the public eye while recovering from an ankle surgery to remove a cyst.
It's an odd time for Kim to disappear from the public eye. North Korea was hit by the heaviest downpours since 1945 in September. The rain caused severe flooding and saw the country make a rare public appeal for help. The flooding also left hundreds of military weapons unaccounted for and officials are concerned that they may have ended up in the flood zones where Kim may be vulnerable to assassination should he visit, according to The Daily NK, a paper based in Seoul that reports on North Korea.
Meanwhile, a report last month by 38 North, a U.S.-based think tank that analyzes the country, found that North Korea has been undergoing major upgrades to its facilities and weapons since 2014. Those upgrades are said to primarily improve defense along the country’s shores but also potentially pose a threat to the United States and South Korea. Those efforts include upgrades and repairs to ships so that the country's navy can patrol further out from their shores and for longer, as well as upgrades to ballistic missile capabilities and enhancements to their training facilities.