TOKYO —Kim Jong Un, the mysteriously missing leader of North Korea, has suddenly resurfaced, with state media Tuesday showing him walking with a cane as he gave “field guidance” at a new apartment complex.
The reports should put an end to rumors that Kim has been overthrown or is under house arrest, but will do little end speculation about this health.
The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party, featured an unusual photo spread on its front page on Tuesday, showing the young leader, thought to be 31 or 32, leaning on a cane at an odd angle.
Sporting a huge grin, Kim was shown surrounded by his top aides — including Hwang Pyong So, his number two who made a surprise visit to South Korea earlier this month — who all had notebooks to take down the “Great Successor’s” every word as he gave “field guidance” at an apartment complex in Pyongyang.
In a separate but similar report, the official Korean Central News Agency noted Tuesday that Kim visited a residential district consisting of 24 apartment blocks, schools, hospital, nursery, kindergarten, public buildings including various welfare service facilities and parks, all built especially for scientists, KCNA reported.
“After being briefed on the district before a map showing its bird's-eye view, he overlooked it,” the state media reported, adding that the third generation leader “said they looked very attractive, presenting fantastic scenery.”
“He noted that not only the flats looked cozy and convenient for settlers but they are fitted with complete sets of quality furniture and fixtures, adding that scientists would not need to bring in anything for living if all flats would have color TV sets, quilts and household articles provided by the party,” KCNA reported.
It did not give the timing of the visit.
The news agency also reported that Kim visited the newly built Natural Energy Institute of the State Academy of Sciences and praised the builders.
Kim had been last seen in Pyongyang on Sept. 3, attending a concert with his wife. The rumor mill went into overdrive when, a few weeks later, Korean Central TV said he was in an “indisposed condition.”
Previous footage showed Kim, who has noticeably put on weight since acceding to the leadership, walking with a pronounced limp. This led to speculation he is suffering from gout or diabetes, or broke both of his ankles under the strain of his weight.
The mystery deepened on Friday, when Kim missed a celebration for the 69th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers' Party.
But the Rodong Sinmun was on Monday talking up Kim’s “tested leadership” and on Tuesday featured his return to public life.
Analysts said the whole incident had raised questions about stability and succession in North Korea, the world’s only communist dynasty.
Adam Cathcart, a North Korea expert at Leeds University in England, said that Kim’s absence highlighted the lack of “coherent alternative leadership” in Pyongyang.
This “is further confirmation that he won’t be stepping down anytime soon,” Cathcart said.