KEY POINTS

  • The South Korean government stated Kim Jong Un is alive and well, dismissing reports the dictator is near death following a heart operation gone wrong
  • On the same day two separate sources claimed Kim was seriously wounded when a cruise missile exploded
  • Kim has not been seen in public since this accident occurred 

The latest speculation about the fate of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un makes for grim but confusing reading. There are increasing reports from disparate but reliable sources Kim was seriously wounded by shrapnel when a cruise missile exploded.

The mass missile launch into the Sea of Japan, which Kim attended in his role as commander-in-chief, took place April 14 and was aired by South Korean media. Some North Korean watchers assert Kim is alive -- but barely -- despite the seriousness of the wounds inflicted by this explosion. Kim's injuries might explain persistent reports about why doctors and medical experts from China were rushed to North Korea to ensure his survival.

Last week, North Korea watchers and Western media reported Kim in a gravely ill condition following an angioplasty operation gone wrong. Rumors about Kim's fate -- alive or dead -- arose after he failed to attend two of the country's most important public events for the first time since he ascended to power as the third Supreme Leader on Dec. 17, 2011.

These were the 108th birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, on April 15 (also called the Day of the Sun, the country's premier public holiday), and the 88th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army (KPA) on April 25. Kim heads the KPA as Marshall of the Republic.

Chinese-American political pundit and author, Gordon Chang, better known as a foe of communist China, believes “something is wrong” in North Korea, which has made no attempt to explain Kim's unusually prolonged absence from public view. Chang also doubts South Korea's explanation Monday Kim is “alive and well."

"Our government position is firm," declared Moon Chung-in, special advisor on foreign affairs and national security to President Moon Jae-in. "Kim Jong-un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected."

Chang brushed aside Moon's explanation on Monday.

“We can conclude that something is wrong,” said Chang. “We know that he did not show up for the April 15 Day of the Sun celebration that commemorates the birth of regime founder Kim Il Sung, his grandfather, and Kim has not missed any Day of the Sun celebrations.”

He also pointed out Kim was "a no-show on Saturday for celebrations to mark the founding of the Korean People's Army.”

“This is a pattern which is broken, which means something really is wrong.”

Chang also said he'd read a report, which “actually has some circumstantial evidence to support it,” showing Kim might have been wounded in “an accident April 14 when North Korea launched a barrage of cruise missiles.”

“One of the things that’s important about this is that that missile test, which in fact did occur, could not have gone forward if Kim did not authorize it,” noted Chang. “Kim has been on site for virtually every missile test in North Korea during his reign.”

He pointed out that photos of Kim were released at every prior missile test. He said it's odd no photos were released of the April 14 launch.

“That's an indication that something happened on April 14,” surmised Chang.

Chang's conclusion was the same one reached earlier by Lee Jeong Ho, a defector from North Korea who once worked as a high-ranking official for the Korea Worker's Party. Lee earlier claimed information confirming Kim was badly wounded when a cruise missile being tested exploded shortly after launch. He also said the accident occurred April 14 as Kim was witnessing the test at a military camp.

“Kim was absent from the reports of the tests while no footage of the missile launch and the training of combat aircrafts was released, which points to a possibility of an unexpected accident that might have been caused by debris or fire," wrote Lee in a story published by the South Korean newspaper Dong-a Ilbo.

Lee contends the failure by North Korea's official media to broadcast the missile test means Kim might have been incapacitated. He also rejected rumors Kim is brain dead after a failed heart surgery.

A man in a Seoul railway station watches a television broadcast on April 14, 2020, showing file footage of a North Korean missile test, after Pyongyang launched several suspected short-range cruise missiles toward the sea A man in a Seoul railway station watches a television broadcast on April 14, 2020, showing file footage of a North Korean missile test, after Pyongyang launched several suspected short-range cruise missiles toward the sea Photo: AFP / Jung Yeon-je