North Korea watchers are eager to get the skinny on leader Kim Jong Un’s apparent weight loss — which some speculate might be a sign of deteriorating health.
The famously corpulent despot looked noticeably slimmer in photos released by state media Saturday — after not being seen publicly for a month, the Guardian reported.
South Korea-based NK News, which analyzed photos of Kim addressing a ruling party politburo meeting last week, said he appeared to have lost a “significant amount of weight.”
If he lost the weight intentionally for health reasons, that “likely improves his position at home,” Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at MIT, told the outlet Tuesday.
Being more secure at home “in turn provides more predictability perhaps for regional actors like Japan, the ROK and the US who may have greater confidence that he will be running the show,” Narang said.
However, it’s a very different outlook if it is due to ill health.
“If [the sudden weight loss] is due to a health condition though, the jockeying for his succession may already be happening behind the scenes, and that volatility could be trouble for the outside world” if he were to die suddenly, Narang said.
NK News’ forensic analysis of the images suggests that Kim appeared thinner — and the luxury watch he frequently wears seemed to be fastened more tightly than before.
The South Korean National Intelligence Service reportedly told lawmakers in November that it believed Kim weighed 308 pounds and had “gained an average of 6 to 7 kilograms per year,” or 13 to 15 pounds, since coming to power in late 2011.
“On the surface, noticeable weight loss may not mean much, but it can provide clues to other information that intelligence collectors look for,” Mike Brodka, an intelligence officer for US Special Operations Command in South Korea, also told NK News.
“It may be a simple matter of a healthy lifestyle change or a more complex issue,” Brodka said.
“Right now, we do not know, but it raises enough serious questions that we must pay attention to events over the next couple of months to find out.”
Kim, a heavy smoker, has struggled with health conditions that observers have linked to his weight and lifestyle, the Guardian noted.
In 2014, he disappeared for almost six weeks before reappearing with a walking stick. Days later, the South Korean spy agency claimed he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.
And a three-week absence last spring sparked rumors that he had fallen seriously ill after undergoing heart surgery — though a more plausible theory was that he had just been isolating during the coronavirus pandemic.