A documentary on Kim Jong Un’s
inspection visit to Kangwon
Province released by
Korean Central TV (KCTV).
He can be seen limping on his left leg.
On January 17, the North Korean state television channel Korean Central TV (KCTV) broadcasted a report on Kim Jong Un’s inspection visit to Kangwon Province. Kim Jong Un can be clearly seen limping on his left leg, stirring speculation about the leader’s health.
The documentary covered Kim Jong Un’s inspection visits last month to facilities in Kangwon Province, including the December 6 Youth Camp, Wonsan Shoe Factory, and the Wonsan Army-People’s Power Station. In the video clip, Kim Jong Un can be seen walking unnaturally with his left leg, especially when climbing a stairway.
North Korea’s documentaries are produced to idolize and deify the Supreme Leader, so it is normally unusual to find scenes that might raise controversy about the leader’s health. Kim Jong Il was known to have suspended all public coverage for 57 days after having a stroke in August 2008, and was seen limping severely during his visit to China in 2010. However, no domestically-produced footage showed the limp, and the regime emphasized Kim Jong Il’s love for the people, claiming that he went through a tight schedule in the hottest period of summer, when in reality he was recovering from a stroke.
Accordingly, it is being pointed out that the exposure of Kim Jong Un’s limping in public is also likely to be part of a propaganda strategy. The regime is actively promoting Kim Jong Un’s remorseful remarks in his New Year’s address as part of a ‘people-first policy,’ and in the same context, may seek to emphasize that Kim Jong Un is ‘caring for the livelihood of the people regardless of his own health.’
Jeon Hyun Joon, director of the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Research Institute told Daily NK on January 18 that, “The regime is trying to earn sympathy from the residents by showing that Kim Jong Un is paying inspection visits despite his poor health. If he were seriously ill, it wouldn’t be shown. The authorities are prepared to show a mild limp to induce sympathy from the residents.”
A North Korean defector who watched the documentary told Daily NK, “In North Korea, it would be unspeakable to accidentally expose the Supreme Leader’s poor health. Therefore, the exposure must have been deliberate. It seems that Kim Jong Un is trying to promote his love for the people by showing that he’s going through inspection schedules despite his condition.”
Kim Jong Un was also seen limping in public in July 2014 during KCTV’s live broadcast of the Central Memorial Service for the 20th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death. In the video clip, he was seen limping toward the podium. In addition, he did not attend the second session of the 13th Supreme People’s Assembly held on September 25 of the same year, and skipped the annual visit to the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun on October 10, the founding day of the Workers’ Party, raising rumors about his worsening health.
He reappeared in public after 40 days in the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun, leaning on a walking stick. At the time, Daily NK reported that this was due to surgery he underwent on his ankle, which was later confirmed by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS). The NIS reported that doctors from Europe conducted an operation on Kim Jong Un’s left ankle because he was suffering from ‘tarsal tunnel syndrome,’ a condition characterized by cysts forming near the ankle bone.
This has given way to speculation that Kim Jong Un was limping in the released documentary because the symptoms have recurred. The NIS also pointed out 3 years ago that the symptoms may recur due to Kim Jong Un’s chronic obesity and excessive smoking.
However, the Ministry of Unification is expressing caution in assessing Kim Jong Un’s health based solely on the documentary. Jung Jun Hee, spokesperson of the Ministry, said during a regular briefing session, “At present, it is too early to say anything about Kim Jong Un’s health. We need to keep an eye on the situation.”
In response to a question asking whether Kim Jong Un’s cyst in his left ankle has recurred as the NIS predicted, Jung replied, “He was seen limping between the period of December 6 to 13 in the documentary, but resumed walking normally after that. So it is too early to make assumptions about his health.”