North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended the opening of a fertilizer factory on May Day, according to state media, in his first public appearance since a flurry of media reports prompted questions about his health.
Kim cut the ribbon to denote the completion of the Sunchon Phosphatic Fertilizer Factory, the official Korean Central News Agency reported early Saturday.
The report didn’t offer any photos or footage of the event, nor did it make any reference to Kim’s recent absence. When asked specifically about the report, U.S. President Donald Trump declined to comment.
Among those reportedly present at the ceremony were premier Kim Jae Ryong, former premier Pak Pong Ju, and Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong, who’s recently been the focus of commentary that she would take over from her brother in the event of his death.
Speculation about Kim’s whereabouts has mounted since his unprecedented absence from annual events to celebrate the April 15 birthday of his grandfather, state founder Kim Il Sung. While U.S. officials said they were told Kim, 36, was in critical condition after undergoing a cardiovascular procedure, a top South Korean foreign policy adviser later said he was “alive and well.”
Although North Korean media continued to publish dispatches about messages to dignitaries and other formalities involving Kim, the leader himself hadn’t appeared since an April 12 report on his visit to a military unit. The previous day, state media showed a video of Kim attending a Workers’ Party of Korea Politburo meeting.
The episode has renewed longstanding questions about the stability of a brutal regime built on a cult of personality for Kim, who has named no known successor. Health scares have been a common occurrence over the years, and the leader’s medical condition is one of North Korea’s most closely guarded secrets.
Trump has said he built a personal rapport with Kim over three meetings that have so far produced no clear agreement for North Korea to reduce its nuclear arsenal. On April 28, Trump said he knew Kim’s health status, but “can’t talk about it now.”
Kim, overweight and a smoker who took power in 2011, similarly disappeared from state media for six weeks in 2014, prompting speculation that he’d been sidelined by gout, an ankle injury, or was even overthrown in a coup. He subsequently showed up walking with a cane during a visit to a new residential block.
Kim’s latest absence fueled fresh debate about who might succeed him. Much discussion has focused on his sister, who has served as Kim’s emissary and personal assistant during several overseas trips since 2018. Earlier in April, she was reinstated as an alternate member of the ruling party’s Politburo.