Seoul: The health of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has long been a source of morbid fascination in rival South Korea, which sits in the shadow of Kims 1.2-million-strong army and his growing arsenal of nuclear-armed missiles.
Has he gained even more weight? Is he struggling for breath after relatively short walks? What about that cane? Why did he miss that important state anniversary?
Now, the 37-year-old faces fresh speculation in the South about his health again. But this time, its because hes noticeably slimmer.
Kim Jong-un at Workers Party meetings in Pyongyang on February 8, left, and on June 15. Last time Kim faced rumours about his health, he had walked with a cane, missed an important state anniversary or panted for breath. Credit:KCNA/AP
Kims health matters in Seoul, Washington, Tokyo and other world capitals because he hasnt publicly anointed a successor who would control an advancing nuclear program targeting the United States and its allies if he is incapacitated. North Korea, never open about the internal workings of its leadership, has over the last year shut itself up even tighter to protect against the coronavirus pandemic.
In recent state media images, including those published on Wednesday, Kim appeared to have lost a large amount of weight. The strap on his fancy watch is tighter, and his face thinner. Some observers say Kim who is about 170 centimetres tall and has previously weighed 140 kilograms may have lost about 10-20 kilograms.
The images were from a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers Partys Central Committee on ways to salvage the economy that opened on Tuesday. Kim urged officials to find ways to boost agricultural production, saying the countrys food situation is now getting tense, according to the regimes news agency (KCNA.
The comments were his clearest yet about possible food shortages. He also called for his people to brace for extended COVID-19 restrictions.
The Norths economy has decayed further amid pandemic border closures, which choked off trade with China, while devastating typhoons and floods decimated crops last year.
Monitors assessing the situation have yet to see signs of mass starvation or major instability, but some analysts say conditions could be aligning for a perfect storm that undercuts food and exchange markets and triggers public panic. The Korea Development Institute, a South Korean government think tank, said last month the North could face food shortages of around a million tonnes this year.

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