Recent months have seen the North Korean dictator make only a handful of public appearances, fuelling widespread reports about his physical decline.

Kim Jong-un addresses the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on June 7
Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono speaking to reporters yesterday
Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono speaking to reporters yesterday

Reports first claimed the 36-year-old had died or was gravely ill after he failed to attend celebrations marking the birth of his grandfather and North Korea’s, Kim Il-Sung, on April 15.

He was believed at the time to have undergone a botched heart operation after collapsing while on a walk.

After an absence lasting 20 days, he turned up on May 1 at a newly-constructed fertiliser plant before again disappearing from public.

Pictures released by North Korean state media also showed him speaking at a meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on June 7.

Since then, state media has carried a steady stream of stories on Kim sending or receiving letters and diplomatic correspondence, but have not shown him attending public events.

Speaking at a press briefing yesterday, Japanese defence minister Taro Kono said recent movements observed in the secretive state were “all very strange”.

“We have some suspicions about his [Kim Jong-un’s] health,” he said.

He said the “very strange movements” in North Korea were part of an attempt by Kim to avoid becoming infected as the coronavirus spreads around the country.

He also said that Japan, the US, and others have been exchanging information about Kim, but added: “I’m not allowed to discuss intelligence issues.”

Kim’s longest public absence was for 40 days in 2014, when he is believed to have undergone a medical procedure on his ankle.

‘NOT A SINGLE CASE’

North Korea continues to insist it hasn’t recorded a single virus case, but foreign experts are highly skeptical.

Some observers of the country are now speculating Kim has lapsed back into serious ill health or even died, the Times reported.

They say any outbreak of the virus will have worsened long-running economic troubles within the country.

North Korea has long faced strict economic sanctions over its nuclear programme, and its border with China, its main ally and chief trading partner, is currently closed amid the pandemic.

Despite the coronavirus chaos, North Korea is reportedly bent on achieving a “nuclear war deterrent” to match the US.

A 5,500-word report published by the North Korean Foreign Ministry has laid bare its plan to “combat American aggressions”, reports NKNews.

The report was published ahead of the 70-year anniversary of the Korean War.

In its statement, North Korea said it had missiles and nuclear weapons “which are capable of mercilessly punishing those who dare to raise a hand to the DPRK”.

“This year, the US military is deploying all sorts of military manoeuvres in South Korea and in the areas adjacent to it,” it read.

Kim seen smiling at the June 7 meeting
Kim seen smiling at the June 7 meeting

“The main purpose of [the manoeuvres] is the movement and deployment of the American armed forces on the Korean peninsula from abroad and from the mainland and the quick delivery of an attack on the DPRK.”

The central committee is the most senior body within the Workers' Party of Korea
The central committee is the most senior body within the Workers’ Party of Korea

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