Kiwis should be wishing Kim Jong-un 'good health' - expert

Kiwis should be wishing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un good health, with no one outside the secretive nation having a clue what would happen if he died, according to a local expert.

The state of Kim's health has been questioned as of late after he went weeks without making a public appearance, including missing celebrations marking the birthdate of his grandfather and founder of the modern North Korean state, Kim Il-Sung.

Rumours swirled that the 36-year-old was dead, or perhaps vegetative after surgery-gone-wrong. But this weekend North Korean state media released a photograph of the dictator, saying it was taken during an inspection of a new fertiliser plant. 

Stephen Hoadley, a professor of international relations at the University of Auckland, said the photograph looked "highly staged" and wouldn't quash any rumours about Kim's health - instead, it might even intensify them.

"He has been ill. What illness, well, speculation runs the gamut from coronavirus to heart disease to just a bad case of the flu. 

"But in the photo to me, he does not look well. It looked like he doesn't fill out his tunic, which he normally does. He's quite a robust person, it looks like he's lost a bit of weight. He looked pudgy, his face to me looked blotchy and he wasn't looking forward with his normal gaze - bold, dark eyes. He looked quite different to what I remember him."

Dr Hoadley suggested North Korea didn't release a video because it might have shown Kim looking weak or slurring.

"Maybe he had a stroke? Which is quite possible for a person who's obese and smokes as regularly as he does."

Stephen Hoadley.
Stephen Hoadley. Photo credit: The AM Show

After Dr Hoadley made those comments, North Korean media broadcast video from the fertiliser plant visit. Al-Jazeera said Kim appeared "stiff and jerky" in the footage, and spoke to an expert who questioned the presence of a golf cart, desks and chairs at the outdoor ceremony.

"Preparing desks and chairs on the stage seemed a bit rare for such an outdoor occasion," Nam Seong-wook, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, told the Middle Eastern news service.

"Kim might have some physical conditions that prevent him from standing too long and he needs to be seated after standing up for a while."

Despite being one of the world's most authoritarian states, Dr Hoadley said it's in New Zealand's best interests Kim recovers from whatever is ailing him and remains Supreme Leader. North Korea has nuclear weapons, the world's fourth-largest standing army - and a lot of enemies. 

"New Zealand does have diplomatic relations with the North. It is of concern, because one of New Zealand's best trade partners is South Korea - number five... Japan is number four and China is number one," said Dr Hoadley.

"So the three countries that touch on North Korea are in the top five of New Zealand's best trade partners. Consequently we want to have stability in that area for our own economic interests.

"The bottom line is we wish Kim good health a steady hand... we don't want any changes."