Media outlets in Japan and Taiwan are reporting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has died. This has not been confirmed by the North Korean government or by sources in South Korea. Earlier in the week, a South Korean site that specializes North Korea news indicated that the “Unique Leader” was gravely ill following cardiac surgery. On Friday, Japanese weekly Shukan Gendai reported that Kim was in a “vegetative state.” On Saturday, the South China Morning News reported that sources in China indicated that country had dispatched a team of medical experts in an effort to save Kim. The Korea Herald and other English language papers in Seoul continued to report that Kim has not been seen in public since April 11, but did not confirm rumors of his death.
Kim Jong Un has disappeared for extended periods in the past, including being out view for months in 2014. The monitoring project 38 North had reported that Kim’s “special train” was spotted on the side rails near a North Korean resort town, but it’s unclear if this is related to Kim’s location. The last statement from North Korea called rumors around Kim’s health “spurious clickbait-driven reports” that “should be quickly disregarded.” North Korea also described the reports in more familiar terms—“fake news.”
Earlier in the week, both U.S. intelligence sources and South Korean media indicated that the pattern of military and political activity in North Korea did not show a high level of alert or disruption that might be expected should Kim be dead or the leadership of the isolated nation be in doubt. Newsweek indicated that this was still the impression of intelligence sources on Saturday morning.
Everything about this—the idea that Kim had surgery, the idea that the surgery went poorly, that Kim might have been in grave condition following the surgery, that China was dispatching a team to consult on Kim’s health, and that Kim has died—is a chain of rumors from various sources. Considering the ease with which rumors are being amplified and elaborated in the current environment, none of this should be credited as fact until more information is available.
Kim jong Un is thought to be 37, though his actual birthdate is unclear. There is no known plan for a successor, but it would likely to be someone in Kim’s immediate family—that is, one of the family members he hasn’t already killed.