SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - China has sent a delegation, including medical professionals, to North Korea to advise on Kim Jong Un, a report said Saturday, amid rumors the young North Korean leader is seriously ill.
The team, led by a senior member of a Chinese Communist Party agency that handles relations with Pyongyang, left for North Korea on Thursday, Reuters reported.
The news agency, which cited three unnamed sources, said the Chinese delegation was sent to advise on Kim but did not elaborate on what kind of advice would be given.
“Reuters was unable to immediately determine what the trip by the Chinese team signaled in terms of Kim’s health,” the report said.
It was perhaps the most substantive development in a week full of unconfirmed reports and rumors about Kim’s health.
Daily NK, a Seoul-based website, on Tuesday reported Kim had heart surgery April 12 and was recovering at a villa outside Pyongyang. The report said Kim’s operation was the result of “excessive smoking, obesity and overwork.”
CNN and several other media outlets then quoted unnamed U.S. officials who said they were monitoring news reports — or possibly other, new intelligence — suggesting Kim was sick.
The nature of the intelligence was unclear, as Western countries are believed to have few if any intelligence assets in North Korea, one of the most secretive and isolated countries in the world.
Trump disputes CNN report
U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday said he believed the CNN report was incorrect. “I’m hearing they used old documents,” Trump said. But he declined to say whether he had been in contact with North Korea on the matter.
South Korean officials say they have no evidence to suggest Kim is sick.
The speculation began after Kim was mysteriously absent last week from a key North Korean political anniversary celebrating the birth anniversary of his grandfather, North Korea’s late founding leader Kim Il Sung.
"All we know at this point is that he did not show himself at the April 15 ceremony, and there must be a good reason for that," a senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official told VOA.
North Korea quiet
North Korea has not commented on Kim’s health or whereabouts.
Over the past several days, North Korean state media have reported Kim sent letters to the leaders of Cuba and Syria. But the reports did not include any photographs or indications of Kim’s status.
Kim, 36, a cigarette smoker with a history of health problems, has gained a significant amount of weight since taking power after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in 2011.
It isn’t the first time that Kim Jong Un has been absent from major events or state media coverage. In 2014, Kim disappeared from state media for over a month. He eventually reappeared — limping and using a cane.