In this photograph provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, cuts a tape during his visit to a fertilizer factory in South Pyongan, near Pyongyang, on May 1, 2020 – KCNA via KNS
Most ribbon cutting ceremonies are unremarkable affairs, the stuff of local newspaper photographs at most.
But this one was different. It involved North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong-un in his first reported appearance in 20 days, during which there has been intense speculation about his health and even whether he was still alive.
The newly released footage of Kim glad-handing at a North Korean fertilizer production plant north of Pyongyang on Friday would appear to have put an end to that.
He was even pictured standing in front of a banner reading May 1, to drive home the point, much in the way hostages are forced to hold up that day’s newspaper for the camera as proof of life.
The date is also written in the Latin alphabet, in case there were any doubts about which audience this ‘proof ‘ is for (see picture below).
Kim made his first public appearance in 20 days as he celebrated the completion of the fertilizer factory, state media said on Saturday – KCNA via KNS
The choice of backdrop may be another hidden message to the West. The fertilizer plant has been the subject of attention for years because of its potential dual-use in the process of uranium extraction from phosphoric acid, allowing North Korea to conceal its nuclear activities from the outside world.
According to state news agency KCNA, which released the images, Kim was accompanied by his younger sister Kim Yo-jong, who many analysts predict would take over if her brother is suddenly unable to rule.
Those attending the event “burst into thunderous cheers of ‘hurrah!’ for the Supreme Leader,” according to the state news agency.
Speculation about Kim’s health began after he missed the birth anniversary of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, on April 15, when he usually pays a visit to the mausoleum where the nation’s founder lies in state.
South Korea’s government has downplayed speculation that Kim, believed to be 36, was in poor health following surgery.
Others have speculated that a mark on Kim’s wrist could even indicate a recent cardiovascular procedure.
Robert E Kelly, Professor of Political Science at Pusan National University, in South Korea, said: “The kind of speculation we’ve seen in the last few weeks is going to continue until we see him live somewhere.”
But he added later: “We can’t know, of course; it’s North Korea. But I do think he’s ok at the moment. The evidence is fairly convincing.”