North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his first public appearance in 20 days as he celebrated the completion of a fertilizer factory near Pyongyang, state media said Saturday, ending an absence that caused global reports that he could be critically ill. North Korean Central News Agency official confirmed that Kim attended the ceremony on Friday in Sunchon with other senior officials, including senior ministers.
State media showed videos and photographs of Kim wearing a black Mao suit and continuously laughing, walking around rooms, applauding, cutting a big red ribbon with a scissor handed over by his father, and smoking inside and outside of buildings while talking to other officials.
Apparently thousands of employees, many masked, stood at the vast complex in lines, screaming in celebration and releasing balloons into the air. A sign that was placed on a stage where Kim was sitting with other senior officials read: “Sunchon Phosphatic Fertiliser Factory; Completion Ceremony; May 1, 2020.” There were no visible indications that Kim was in distress. He was shown to be moving without a walking stick, like the one he used when recovering from presumed ankle surgery in 2014. He was also seen riding a green electric cart, however, which appeared to be similar to a vehicle he used in 2014.
It was Kim’s first public appearance since April 11, when he chaired a ruling Workers’ Party meeting to discuss coronavirus and re-appoint his sister as an alternate member of the party’s Central Committee’s powerful decision-making Political Bureau. That move confirmed her significant role in the government.
Speculation about his health swirled after missing for the first time since taking power in 2011 the April 15 birthday celebration for his late grandfather Kim Il Sung, the most important holiday in the world.
The prospect of high-level chaos posed alarming concerns about the future of the covert, nuclear-armed state that has steadily developed an arsenal designed to threaten the U.S. mainland while negotiation between Kim and President Donald Trump has stalled.
Some analysts suggest that South Korea, along with its regional neighbors and ally Washington, must begin to plan for the inevitable instability that could come if Kim is sidelined by health issues or even dies. Worst-case scenarios include North Korean refugees flooding South Korea or China or army hard-liners letting nuclear weapons loose.