Why Is North Korea's Leader Kim Jong Un with a Cane? Expert Explains

( [email protected] ) Oct 14, 2014 02:26 PM EDT
North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un is known for his brutal persecution of Christians RODONG SINMUN / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

After suspiciously vanishing from the public eye for nearly six weeks, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has returned--carrying a cane.

After rampant rumors circulated of a coup and serious health problems, Kim, who was last seen publicly at a Sept. 3 concert, reappeared while touring the newly built Wison Scientists Residential District on Tuesday smiling broadly and supporting himself with a walking stick.

However, suspicion regarding the leader's health remains, as he missed several high-profile events that he normally attends and was described in an official documentary last month as experiencing "discomfort."

One South Korean analyst says Kim may have reappeared to dispel rumors that he was no longer in control or "win sympathy from a domestic audience by creating the image of a leader who works through pain."

The appearance may be a form of "emotional politics meant to appeal to the North Korean people's sympathy," said Cheong Seong-chang, at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, adding that Kim may have had surgery on his left ankle.

"He appears to want to show people that he's doing fine, though he's indeed still having some discomfort. If he hadn't done so, excessive speculation would have continued to flare up and anxiety among North Korean residents would have grown and calls by outsiders for contingency plans on dealing with North Korea would have gotten momentum," Cheong added.

Others, such as University of Chicago Korea expert Bruce Cummings, believe Kim's recent absence was "probably an attention-getting device."

"It certainly works," Cummings told Fox News.

"The North has been on a diplomatic offensive in Europe and elsewhere, it feels isolated - and is, if we're talking about relations with Washington. All this puts them back on the front page."

Kim Jong Un is the first in his family to appear in public with a walking stick. Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, who reportedly suffered a stroke in 2008 before dying of a heart attack in late 2011, was seen limping but never carried a cane. The country's founder and Kim Jong Un's grandfather, Kim II Sung, also refused to carry a walking stick even when experiencing failing health.