Kim Jong Un has been seen with a dark spot on the back of his head, sometimes covered by a bandage, fuelling more speculation about his health.
The North Korean tyrant’s dark patch was first seen at the end of July when he attended a series of events including a military parade and meeting with veterans.
The apparent wound, with a greenish hue, was variously seen uncovered or covered by a broad nude-coloured plaster.
There has been rampant speculation about the 37-year-old’s health since he lost a considerable amount of weight earlier this year, with his Mao-style suit hanging loose over his shoulders and his facial features conspicuously defined.
State media made the highly unusual decision in June to describe Kim as ’emaciated’ and ‘breaking our people’s hearts,’ in an apparent effort to evoke sympathy for the despot who has admitted publicly to a ‘great crisis’ brought about by the pandemic.
Kim Jong Un with plaster on the back of his head and without the bandage, revealing a dark spot, during a military conference held in Pyongyang from July 27 to 29
Kim Jong Un is seen with a plaster on the back of his head during the recent state TV broadcast
The bandage was plain to see during certain moments of the broadcast, in the exact spot where in other shots he is seen with a greenish mark
It is believed that he developed the mark on his head some time after July 11 because on that date he was seen at an appearance with musicians with no trace of it, according to North Korean monitoring site NK Daily.
It is not the first time Kim has appeared publicly with a curious mark on his body.
In May last year, he was seen with a small dark spot on his wrist from what medical experts claimed was the result of a needle used in heart surgery.
Kim’s health has been the subject of international speculation for years as his death would raise questions over succession and stability in the nuclear-armed nation.
Known as a heavy smoker and a big eater, the leader has been obese throughout much of his life and has appeared to gain weight as he has grown older.
Kim’s father Kim Jong-Il and grandfather Kim Il-Sung were also obese and heavy smokers. Both died of heart attacks.
But he looked noticeably less overweight in recent media images published by Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency and on state television.
Some observers say Kim – who is about 5ft8in tall and has previously weighed 308 pounds may have lost between 22 and 44 pounds.
Kim’s personal life is normally taboo for North Korea’s state media and Pyongyang has never even confirmed how many children he has.
But KCTV last month aired a clip of an unnamed resident of the capital claiming everyone in the country was ‘heartbroken’ by his ’emaciated’ condition.
‘Seeing our respected general secretary looking emaciated breaks our people’s hearts the most,’ he said.
‘Everyone is talking about how their tears welled up immediately.’
Analysts say Pyongyang is using Kim’s appearance as a way to glorify him by portraying him as a ‘devoted, hardworking’ leader as the country struggles to tackle its food crisis and other challenges.
‘If outside observers picked up on the change in Kim’s appearance, you can bet your bottom dollar that the North Korean people noticed it, too, and more quickly,’ said Christopher Green, a Korea specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
It shut its borders in January last year to protect itself against the pandemic, and as a result trade with Beijing – its economic lifeline – has slowed to a trickle while all international aid workers have left the country.
‘The message Pyongyang is sending is that Kim is a leader who works very hard for his people even to a degree he skips meals and loses weight,’ defector-turned-researcher Ahn Chan-il told AFP.
Global speculation about Kim’s health flared last year after he missed the commemoration of the birthday of his late grandfather, and was absent from public view for about 20 days.
In 2016, South Korea’s spy agency reported Kim had bulked up to 285 pounds, having piled on around 90 pounds since taking power in 2011, ‘bingeing on food and drink’.
Last year it was estimated he had put on another 20 pounds, taking him to around 305 pounds.
Slim Kim: Korean leader Kim Jong Un has faced fresh speculation about his health as he appeared noticeably slimmer. In recent state media images, Kim appeared to have lost a large amount of weight as his face is thinner and the strap on his fancy watch is tighter
Kim Jong Un waving to a crowd of enthusiastic military officers looking noticeably slimmer in his trademark Mao suit in a photo issued on July 30
The North Korean leader – seen in a picture taken on July 24 – is thought to have lost between 22 and 44 pounds already this year
But Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, pointed out it was unlikely his recent weight loss was a symptom of acute ill health, as he had attended several public events this month.
‘No one can really know why he lost weight,’ he told AFP. ‘What’s clear – from the KCTV footage – is the regime wants the world to think that its people love care for their leader, to a point where they’d cry over his thinner appearance.’
Kim has acknowledged a ‘tense’ food situation that could worsen if this year’s crops fail, exacerbating economic problems amid strict self-imposed border and movement restrictions that have slowed trade to a trickle.
‘The most likely reason they would mention his declining weight in this way would, in my opinion, be related to ongoing COVID-19-related border measures,’ said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of the Seoul-based Korea Risk Group.
‘Regardless of the motivation for Kim’s rapid weight loss, it seems there is propaganda value in showing that even the leader of North Korea is enduring the same food shortages that are hitting the country at the current time.’
The regime may have intended from the beginning to emphasise the fact that Kim is working hard for the people at a time of widespread hardship, or its messaging may have been an unintended consequence of Kim’s inevitable appearance, Green said.
‘What matters is that the North Korean regime will have received word from its many, many, many informants that Kim’s condition was a talking point among ordinary people,’ he said.
North Korean state TV says Kim Jong Un’s ’emaciated’ condition is ‘breaking our people’s hearts’ in a highly unusual broadcast (pictured at a concert last month)
‘From there it is a simple matter to respond by designing a propaganda strategy to use the existing public discussion to the regime’s advantage.’
The ‘pseudo-voxpop’ – carefully staged by state media to look authentic – such as the one from the unnamed Pyongyang resident was a common North Korean media tactic, he added.
It is unusual, though not unheard of, for North Korean state media to mention a leader’s health. In 2014 it reported that Kim – who inherited his position from his father and grandfather before him – suffered from ‘discomfort’ after a prolonged period out of the public eye.
With succession plans unclear, a sudden decline in Kim’s health could throw nuclear-armed North Korea’s 76-year-old system of hereditary leadership into disarray.
‘It is a major weight loss, and his health is important to the functioning and fate of the state, which is why people are watching this closely,’ said Town of 38 North.