Kim Jong Un’s best celebration in North Korea was nowhere to be found

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It celebrates the birthday of the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, and has in the past been marked by events such as satellite launches and massive military parades. The North Korean calendar even begins on April 15 and years are measured from Kim’s date of birth.

But this year, the celebrations have been more moderate and seem to have taken place without a public appearance by leader Kim Jong Un, which is unusual.

North Korean state media did not report his presence on Wednesday at the Sun Day festivities. The country’s official news agency, KCNA, reported that “senior officials” had made the usual visit to the Pyongyang Sun Palace in Kumsusan, the mausoleum where the bodies of Kim Il Sung and his successor and son, Kim Jong Il, are both on display.

Experts do not know what to think of the alleged absence of Kim. North Korea has no free press and is often a black hole when it comes to governing the country. Analysts are highly dependent on analyzing state media reports and watching propaganda videos with Talmudic precision, reading the tea leaves for any semblance of a clue.

Duyeon Kim, the International Crisis Group’s senior advisor on Northeast Asia and nuclear policy, said it was “unprecedented for him not to pay tribute to him.”

“Since taking office, he has always presented himself for these most important days for North Korea. It is not yet known whether he paid homage by himself before the others, “she said.

This April 15, 2017 photo published by the official Korean Central News Agency for North Korea shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Kumsusan Sun Palace in Pyongyang to celebrate the late president's 105th birthday Kim Il Sung.

Absences from major celebrations in the past have sometimes proven to be major developments. They also turned out to be nothing.

Kim Jong Il’s absence from a parade celebrating North Korea’s 60th anniversary in 2008 was followed by rumors that he was in poor health. It was later revealed that he had had a stroke, after which his health continued to decline until his death in 2011.

Kim Jong Un disappeared from the public eye for more than a month in 2014, which also sparked speculation about his health. He returned with a cane and a few days later, South Korean intelligence said he had a cyst removed from his ankle.

“It is easy to be mistaken on this point,” said John Delury, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul. “Most of the time, we are wrong when an appearance is expected and does not happen. It is sometimes very difficult for a while to understand what is causing it. “

At first glance, the coronavirus pandemic could be a culprit.

Although North Korea has not reported any cases within its borders – an assertion according to public health experts is unlikely – Pyongyang has taken the pandemic very seriously. The country quickly closed its borders to tourists and foreign diplomats in quarantine, who eventually left. State media issued several warnings and reports on the importance of good hygiene in February, while describing the measures the government has taken to fight the virus.

North Korean state media has released a photo, which she says shows Kim chairing a meeting on public health efforts less than a week ago, during which they agreed to scale up “services nationwide emergency epidemics, “KCNA reported Sunday.

This photo provided by the North Korean government on Sunday purports to show North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the top of the center, attending a meeting of the political bureau of the government in power & # 39; Korean party in Pyongyang on Saturday.

Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said it was unusual for Kim to chair this meeting, but may have missed an important opportunity to honor his father and grandfather. .

He said it is possible that Kim may have had a temporary personal or health problem, but that “it is difficult to judge the seriousness of the situation.”

However, limiting the celebrations organized for the Day of the Sun could have been a prudent measure to emphasize social estrangement and prevent community spread.

Keeping Kim away from the celebration could also have been a way to protect the young leader from potential exposure to the virus.

“He’s a leader whose kind of trademark hugged his people a lot. You think of the images that we have condolences in the country, it is there pressing the flesh. There are people who cry a little beside him – much, much more than his father. And it’s a huge danger if you worry about the virus, “said Delury.

“I think we need to include the possibility that this is related to their process to make sure it stays safe. “

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