North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s apparent weight loss which has left him “looking emaciated” is said to have broken the nation’s heart “so much”.
The tightly controlled state media quoted an unidentified resident of the country’s capital Pyongyang who said recent images of Kim had upset people across the nation.
“Seeing respected general secretary (Kim Jong Un) looking emaciated breaks our people’s heart so much,” the man said in an interview aired by state broadcaster KRT.
“Everyone is saying that their tears welled up,” he added.
A broadcast showing a concert attended by Mr Kim and officials of his ruling Workers’ Party of Korea did not provide any details on what had led to the leader’s weight loss.
When Mr Kim – who is believed to be aged 37 – reappeared on state media in early June after not being seen in public for almost a month, analysts noted his loss in weight.
They said it is unclear whether his weight loss is due to illness or whether he has decided it was time to get fit, adding the intention behind the recent media coverage showcasing his appearance is unknown.
Jenny Town, director of the US-based 38 North project, which monitors North Korea, said: “It is a little strange that they would show him in such ill-fitting clothes, as the optics do seem to emphasise his weight loss.
“It is a major weight loss, and his health is important to the functioning and fate of the state, which is why people are watching this closely.”
Christopher Green, a Korea specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said: “If outside observers picked up on the change in Mr Kim’s appearance, you can bet your bottom dollar that the North Korean people noticed it, too, and more quickly.
“What matters is that the North Korean regime will have received word from its many, many, many informants that Kim’s condition was a talking point among ordinary people.”
Mr Kim has acknowledged a “tense” food situation that could worsen if this year’s crops fail, exacerbating economic problems amid strict self-imposed border and movement restrictions that have slowed trade to a trickle.
“The most likely reason they would mention his declining weight in this way would, in my opinion, be related to ongoing COVID-19-related border measures,” said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of the Seoul-based Korea Risk Group.
“Regardless of the motivation for Kim’s rapid weight loss, it seems there is propaganda value in showing that even the leader of North Korea is enduring the same food shortages that are hitting the country at the current time.”
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