North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has recently lost about 20 kilograms, but remains healthy and is trying to boost public loyalty to him in the face of worsening economic problems, South Korea’s spy agency says.
The National Intelligence Service gave the assessment on Thursday during a closed-door parliamentary briefing, saying it used artificial intelligence techniques, an analysis of super-resolution video of Kim and other methods to investigate Kim’s condition, said two lawmakers who attended the session.
Kim’s health has been a focus of keen outside attention in recent months because he has appeared noticeably thinner in state media photos and videos.
Kim, 37, hasn’t publicly anointed a successor and some experts say an abrupt incapacitation could trigger chaos in the impoverished nuclear-armed country.
Despite Kim’s thinner appearance, longtime North Korea observers have said he has no apparent health problems and his weight loss is likely the result of his efforts to improve his physique.
They noted that he has continued his regular public activities and no unusual developments have been seen in North Korean videos.
But unconfirmed rumours about him have continued to appear, with one tabloid claiming that recent public appearances used an impostor. The NIS dismissed that report as groundless, lawmaker Kim Byung-kee said.
He said the NIS told the parliamentary session that Kim’s weight has fallen from about 140kg to 120kg. The NIS has previously said Kim is about 170 centimetres tall.
It said Kim has been engaged in public activities for 70 days so far this year, a 45 per cent increase from the same period last year.
After about 10 years in office, Kim is struggling to overcome what appears to be the toughest period of his rule due to economic hardships worsened by the coronavirus pandemic.
The NIS corroborated recent reports by the World Health Organisation that North Korea is beginning to ease its tough COVID-19 border restrictions to receive outside help.
North Korea has yet to report any cases of the coronavirus. While experts have questioned its claim of a perfect record, Ha said the NIS has yet to see any signs of a major COVID-19 outbreak.