What Kim Jong-Un’s $12,000 watch says about his weight – and the future of North Korea

Harriet Brewis
Thursday 10 June 2021 09:46
news

Kim Jong-Un has emerged from a lengthy public absence to reveal a trimmed-down look.

The North Korean leader’s health is of intense interest to parties across the world, since the future of one of the world’s most secretive and autocratic regimes rests in his hands.

Throughout 2020, a lack of public sightings of the 37-year-old despot led to speculation that he was close to death or had already died, particularly given his family’s history of heart disease.

However, images released by state media on Saturday suggest the ruler has slimmed down significantly over the past few months.

And the clearest evidence of his dramatic weight loss can be found just by looking at his wrist.

Kim appears to be fastening his beloved $12,000 Swiss watch more tightly these days, according to analysis by South Korea’s NK News.

The Seoul-based news site compared close-ups of the IWC Schaffhausen Portofino timepiece, showing he has gone up a few notches on the strap.

The photos seem to show his left wrist looking considerably thinner than in similar images taken in November 2020 and March this year.

Kim is the third in his family to hold the title of Supreme Leader of North Korea and, given that he’s still in his 30s, he could potentially rule for many more decades.

While a person’s size does not necessarily indicate poor health, there have long been rumours that Kim has suffered from conditions related to obesity, including gout. Therefore, his weight has long been tracked by spy agencies for clues about the stability of his dynasty.

South Korea’s national intelligence service told MPs in November that Kim weighed an estimated 140kg (22 stone) and had gained around 50kg since coming to power in 2011, NK News reported.

“Foreign intelligence agencies want to know is Kim Jong Un healthy enough to remain the leader for a long amount of time,” Colin Zwirko, a senior analytic correspondent for the website said.

“What’s going on behind the scenes, if he’s unhealthy? And how does that affect security in the region given North Korea has nuclear weapons.”

Elsewhere, Mike Brodka, an intelligence officer for US Special Operations Command in South Korea, told NK News: “On the surface, noticeable weight loss may not mean much, but it can provide clues to other information that intelligence collectors look for.”

He added: “It may be a simple matter of a healthy lifestyle change or a more complex issue.

“Right now, we do not know, but it raises enough serious questions that we must pay attention to events over the next couple of months to find out.”

The leader’s health has been a subject of intrigue for years.

In 2014, he vanished for nearly three weeks before reappearing with a walking stick, as the Guardian points out. Days later, reports emerged that he had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from his ankle.

A 20-day absence last spring in which he missed birthday celebrations for his late grandfather and state founder Kim Il Sung, prompted the theory that he had become seriously – or even fatally ill – after undergoing heart surgery.

However, he eventually reappeared in apparent good health, suggesting he may just have been isolating with his family during the Covid pandemic.

Bong Young-shik, a research fellow at Yonsei University Institute for North Korean Studies, said the dictator’s health has been questionable since the start of his rule.

He told ABC News back in March: "When [Kim] assumed power at the age of 27, about 10 years ago, he was already overweight.

"His health is closely watched, not [just] by the outsiders, but also North Koreans.

"The concern [is] of a sudden power vacuum or leadership collapse inside North Korea.”

And, Bong added: “He’s not in good health.”

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