Is North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gravely ill?

Recent reports from the Korean Peninsula suggest that Kim Jong Un suffered a heart attack or some other serious medical calamity. Fueling these rumors is the fact that he has not been seen in public for weeks. This includes missing a major public event in April — a rare absence of the North Korean leader.

The thing is, outsiders have very little ability to know whether or not these rumors are true. Even North Korea experts who study the Kim regime have very little reliable information upon which to make judgments about the inner-workings of the government. This information gap has seriously hinder policy and public understanding of North Korea?

So how do North Korea experts analyze the veracity of rumors like this? And what does the fact of a rumor spreading about Kim Jong Un’s health teach us about North Korea?

Patricia Kim joins me to discuss the significance of the rumor about Kim Jong Un’s ill-health. She is the senior policy analyst with the China program at United States Institute of Peace. We also analyze what we know about North Korea’s experience with COVID-19, and what lies ahead for nuclear diplomacy between the United States, North Korea, South Korea, and China.

We kick off discussing the origin of the rumor of Kim Jong Un’s health. This discussion necessarily inspires questions about regime succession: who would lead North Korea if Kim Jong Un is unable? Patricia Kim explains how Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong has been groomed as a possible successor, but patriarchal nature of the North Korean elite may complicate that plan.

If you have 20 minutes and want to learn what a rumor about Kim Jong Un’s health scare can teach us about North Korea, have a listen

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