China sent team including medical experts to advise on North Korea’s Kim
China has dispatched a team to North Korea including medical
experts to advise on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to three people
familiar with the situation.
The trip by the Chinese doctors and officials comes amid
conflicting reports about the health of the North Korean leader. Reuters was
unable to immediately determine what the trip by the Chinese team signalled in
terms of Kim’s health.
A delegation led by a senior member of the Chinese Communist
Party’s International Liaison Department left Beijing for North Korea on
Thursday, two of the people said. The department is the main Chinese body
dealing with neighbouring North Korea.
The sources declined to be identified given the sensitivity
of the matter.
The Liaison Department could not be reached by Reuters for
comment late on Friday. China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to
a request for comment late on Friday.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, reported earlier this week
that Kim was recovering after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure on April
12. It cited one unnamed source in North Korea.
South Korean government officials and a Chinese official
with the Liaison Department challenged subsequent reports suggesting that Kim
was in grave danger after surgery. South Korean officials said they had
detected no signs of unusual activity in North Korea.
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump also downplayed
earlier reports that Kim was gravely ill. “I think the report was incorrect,”
Trump told reporters, but he declined to say if he had been in touch with North
On Friday, a South Korean source told Reuters their
intelligence was that Kim was alive and would likely make an appearance soon.
The person said he did not have any comment on Kim’s current condition or any
An official familiar with US intelligence said that Kim was
known to have health problems but they had no reason to conclude he was
seriously ill or unable eventually to reappear in public.
A US State department spokeswoman had no comment. US
Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, when asked about Kim’s health on Fox News
after Trump spoke said, “I don’t have anything I can share with you tonight,
but the American people should know we’re watching the situation very keenly.”
North Korea is one of the world’s most isolated and
secretive countries, and the health of its leaders is treated as a matter of
state security. Reuters has not been able to independently confirm any details
on Kim’s whereabouts or condition.
North Korea’s state media last reported on Kim’s whereabouts
when he presided over a meeting on April 11. State media did not report that he
was in attendance at an event to mark the birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il
Sung, on April 15, an important anniversary in North Korea.
South Korean people watch a TV broadcasting a news report on
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Seoul, South Korea on Tuesday. —
Kim, believed to be 36, has disappeared from coverage in
North Korean state media before. In 2014, he vanished for more than a month and
North Korean state TV later showed him walking with a limp. Speculation about
his health has been fanned by his heavy smoking, apparent weight gain since
taking power and family history of cardiovascular problems.
When Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, suffered a stroke in
2008, South Korean media reported at the time that Chinese doctors were
involved in his treatment along with French physicians.
Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping made the first state
visit in 14 years by a Chinese leader to North Korea, an impoverished state
that depends on Beijing for economic and diplomatic support.
China is North Korea’s chief ally and the economic lifeline
for a country hard-hit by UN sanctions, and has a keen interest in the
stability of the country with which it shares a long, porous border.
Kim is a third-generation hereditary leader who came to
power after his father Kim Jong Il died in 2011 from a heart attack. He has
visited China four times since 2018.
Trump held unprecedented summits with Kim in 2018 and 2019
as part of a bid to persuade him to give up North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.