A WHITE House official burst out laughing when quizzed about claims that Kim Jong-un is in a coma or dead, a North Korea expert has said.
Speculation about the health of the despot has been rife since he retreated from public view in April, and began again this week after a former South Korean official claimed he was in a coma.
The 36-year-old has been seen in public only a handful of times since reportedly undergoing heart surgery in April.
Photos released recently by North Korea’s state media have shown him attending meetings with senior officials, although questions have been raised about their authenticity.
Speaking to local media, Chang Song-min, a former aide to late South Korean president Kim Dae-Jung, said he believed figures within the regime were trying to conceal a decline in Kim Jong-un’s health.
“I assess him to be in a coma, but his life has not ended,” he said.
But taking to twitter yesterday, Harry Kazianis, a senior director at the Center for the National Interest, a conservative think tank based in Washington, said: “I spoke to a White House [official] this AM on the news #KimJongUn was in a coma or dead.
“The [official] bust out into laughter. I think we all need to move on.”
Comparisons of commercially-available satellite images with reference points in footage showing Kim on recent public outings also suggest the footage is genuine, NK News reports.
Video broadcast on North Korean state media purportedly shows Kim appearing at the Sixth Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea on August 19.
Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, has also said the coma claims are false, but added that steps appear to be being taken within the regime to ensure a successor is in place in the event of Kim’s death.
A number of possible replacements have been cited, but his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, 32, is currently seen as the frontrunner.
Speaking to the New York Post, Lee said: “Clearly there has been a contingency plan rolled out since early March to bolster Kim Yo Jong’s credentials and have her, if and when necessary, to seize the reins of power should Kim Jong Un become incapacitated.”
Kim Yo Jong has frequently been seen alongside her brother over the last year and has also made a number of public statements, most notably reiterated his threats against the United States.
Lee added that Kim Yo Jong was “ambitious and smart” but that the nature of the role would demand “she be ruthless, especially in the first few years.”
“The way for her to build up her credibility and net worth, that is, the way for her to get respect, is not to play nice but be a cruel dictator to her people and a credible nuclear threat to the US,” he said.
“She may prove herself fiercer and more tyrannical than her brother, father, or grandfather.”
North Korea is known to be pursuing a nuclear weapons programme, and talks between the regime and the Trump administration have so far failed to produce any agreement on disarmament.
Another possible successor is Kim Pyong II, uncle to the siblings, who returned to the country in 2019 after spending years working as a diplomat in Europe.