Kim Jong-Un has lost weight too much. If observers have often worried about his obesity and the number of cigarettes he smokes, it is his weight loss that is talking about. But not only abroad – and this is where the situation becomes unprecedented. State television broadcast a very unusual report last week. On military music, we see Kim Jong-Un participating in the plenary meeting of the Central Committee, visibly emaciated, a little less belly, and a slightly less round face.
When suddenly, a man in a straw hat, a resident of Pyongyang, appears in front of the camera. “To see our respectable secretary general emaciated is what breaks the hearts of our people the most”, said the man. You should know that in North Korea, losing weight is not positive, it is being overweight that is welcome. This comment is surprising because in this authoritarian regime, discussing Kim Jong-Un’s private life or his state of health is prohibited.
Why did the authorities agree to stage this man in the straw hat? The Pyongyang Diet seeks to use this weight loss to build loyalty to the leader. Rather than let the locals speculate and to cut short international rumors, the authorities used this very visible news to glorify Kim Jong-Un. If he has lost pounds, around 10 kg according to specialists, it is because he is a “dedicated worker” who works so hard for his people that he must “skip meals”. For Antoine Bondaz, French researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research and specialist in North Korea, if the authorities have agreed to disseminate such a message, it is also to show that the people are: “personally attached” to the leader. For Antoine Bondaz, Kim Jong-Un lost weight because he lacked food. If so, the diet would not broadcast images.
In truth, we do not know why he lost weight: did he decide to lose weight? Is he ill? If so, the regime would obviously not say so. The opacity on the state of health of the North Korean leaders has always been absolute.
These images imply a message: the food situation, already strained by the typhoons that ravaged grain fields last year, could get even worse. Because of the Covid, the North Korean borders have been closed since January 2020 and the country is very dependent on exports from its Chinese neighbor, including grains, fertilizers and spare parts. With these images, the regime may be whispering to North Koreans that more restrictions and more effort will have to be faced. Because even the leader, “big sun of the 21st century”, one of his high-sounding titles compromised.
In this context, what worries specialists above all is that if the situation worsens, no one will be able to testify on the spot, nor to help the population. “We lack visibility, explains Antoine Bondaz, foreign diplomats have left since the Covid crisis and there are no longer any European resident NGOs, even the International Red Cross has left. “ The specialist warns all the same, “North Korea is not in the situation of the 90s” and the great famine which followed the collapse of the USSR. The “forced walk”, an expression used in the country to speak of those years, had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The situation is “more tense than usual”, but not critical.