North Korean state television broadcast an unusual interview on Friday in which a Pyongyang resident said he and others living in the capital were “heartbroken” to see how the the leader of the country Kim Jong Un lost.
Kim has been shown in North Korean state media looking noticeably thinner in recent weeks, surprising and baffling many experts who study the country. Pyongyang has not officially acknowledged any changes in Kim’s weight or health, so the interview is the most official confirmation to date of the secret North Korean leader’s sudden change in appearance.
The anonymous individual told a reporter from KCTV, North Korea’s state television network, that “people, including myself, were heartbroken when we saw the respected secretary general (headline Kim Jong Un official) looking gaunt… everyone said it made them cry. “
It is not known who the subject of the interview is, why he was chosen, or if his opinion is truly representative of the majority of Pyongyang residents. But the segment is unlikely to have received some sort of official blessing, given that all media broadcast in North Korea are approved by government censors.
However, the interview appears to have only aired once, which means it’s also possible that the play just slipped through the cracks. North Korea often reruns or recycles news broadcasts instead of constantly producing live broadcasts.
Kim’s health is a well-kept secret in North Korea, whose leaders are notoriously paranoid about the possibility of an impending invasion or regime change. The country is still technically at war with the United States and South Korea, and North Koreans learn from an early age to believe that the two capitalist powers are still actively preparing the demise of the Communist North.
Kim and her family are treated like modern gods in North Korean state media, and its image is carefully crafted by the propagandists in Pyongyang. Even discussing rumors about his health can cause problems for a North Korean with state security services, experts say.
Although rare, North Korean state media have acknowledged the Kim family’s health problems in the past. Kim would have felt “uneasy” during an unusual disappearance in the public eye in 2014.
When Kim’s father and predecessor Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack in 2011, state media attributed it to the “overwork” of “devoting your life to the people”.
Cheong Seong-chang, an expert on North Korea at the Sejong Institute near Seoul, said it was possible that Pyongyang chose to publicly acknowledge Kim’s apparent change to “say it doesn’t matter. “.
But Cheong said North Korean propagandists may try to portray the current leader’s state as the product of his efforts to improve life inside a country. who would find it difficult to feed his people.
“North Korea might try to sell people the idea that Kim Jong Un is losing weight because he pushes himself to improve the lives of people in North Korea,” Cheong said.
At present, the situation inside North Korea looks grim. Kim opened an important political meeting earlier this month recognizing that the country’s food supply is strained and “getting strained”.
The agricultural sector is still recovering from the damage caused by the storm last year. Replacing domestic food supplies with imports is likely to be difficult as borders remain mostly closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. Exports from China, North Korea’s largest trading partner, fell 90% in May from the previous month, according to official statistics from Beijing, although it is not known why.
Kim did not disclose the extent of the shortages, but the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently estimated that North Korea was in short supply of around 860,000 tonnes of food, or l ‘equivalent of just over two months of nationwide supply.
The prices of some basic necessities in Pyongyang are said to have skyrocketed. Experts say the prices of rice and fuel are relatively stable, but the prices of imported staples such as sugar, soybean oil and flour have increased.
Locals told CNN that non-essential items such as a small packet of black tea can sell for around $ 70, while a packet of coffee can cost over $ 100.