SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un convened a key military meeting to discuss bolstering the country's nuclear arsenal and putting its armed forces on high alert, state media reported Sunday, in Kim's first known public appearance in about 20 days.
Kim earlier this month quelled intense rumors about his health by attending a ceremony marking the completion of a fertilizer factory in what at the time was his first public appearance in 20 days. But he hadn’t made another public appearance for around 20 more days until the North's official news agency said Sunday that he led a meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party.
“Set forth at the meeting were new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country and putting the strategic armed forces on a high alert operation,” the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, said, without mentioning when the meeting was held.
The meeting discussed increasing the capabilities for deterring “the threatening foreign forces,” the report said, an apparent reference to the U.S. and South Korean militaries.
Kim, who heads the military commission, also used the meeting to promote the ranks of dozens of army generals and others in an apparent effort to boost military morale. Among them is military chief Pak Jong Chon, who was made a vice marshal, and Ri Pyong Chol, a senior party official in charge of weapons development, who became a deputy head of the military commission, according to KCNA.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that Kim's “public appearances have more to do with domestic politics than international signaling, but it is interesting for him to reappear in state media about the time the world started noticing he’d been gone for three weeks again.”
The meeting was held amid a prolonged deadlock in negotiations with the United States over the North’s nuclear program. The two countries’ diplomacy faltered when a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in February 2019 ended without any agreement due to disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea.
Frustrated over the lack of progress, Kim later said he would unveil “a new strategic weapon” and would no longer be bound by a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests. Kim hasn’t followed through with those threats, though he did conduct a slew of short-range missile tests.
On Sunday, the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper released photos showing Kim clad in his trademark dark Mao suit delivering a speech, writing on a document and pointing a stick at a board on the podium. Elderly military generals wearing olive green uniforms were seen taking notes as Kim, 36, spoke — something that’s typical in North Korean state media-distributed photos.
Despite lingering rumors about Kim’s health, South Korean officials have said he didn’t undergo surgery or any other medical procedure.
South Korea’s spy agency recently told lawmakers that it believes the coronavirus pandemic had led Kim to avoid public activities, saying he appeared in public 17 times this year, compared with an average of 50 appearances in the same time period each year since he took power in late 2011.