A TOP South Korean official told North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un to quit smoking during a meeting in early March, leaving the North’s top intelligence officer in shock over the unexpected remark made towards the dictator known for ordering executions of those who admonished him.
Despite the unsolicited advice, Kim appeared to have taken South Korean National Security Council chief Chung Eui-yong’s words in stride at the head table in the banquet Kim hosted for Chung who was visiting Pyongyang as President Moon Jae-in’s top envoy last month.
“How about stopping smoking? It’s bad for your health,” Chung was quoted as saying by Asahi Shimbun (translated by Japan Times), which cited several sources.
Chung’s remarks had reportedly left Kim’s onetime spy chief Kim Yong-chol forzen in terror during the awkward exchange bit the leader’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, defused the situation, clapping her hands in agreement with the South Korean official.
“I always ask him (Kim) to quit smoking, but he won’t listen to me,” Ri said.
Observers say it is possible that Chung, 71, was caught in the heat of the moment and made the suggestion to the dictator half his age, according to the Korea Times. In Korea, the age of a person is a factor for reverence — a person is seen more senior ‘rank’ if they are older.
Kim Yong-chol, who was accused of masterminding the deadly 2010 attack on the South Korean warship Cheonan, and who was present at the dinner, froze in anguish as openly criticising the leader was a severe offence in the North where Kim Jong Un is seen as a demigod.
Publicly, the supreme leader is often seen in media photos with a cigarette in his hands during visits to hospitals, schools, and even during missile launches, according to the Japan Times. Last July, Kim was seen smoking near a base of an untested liquid-fueled rocket engine.
A Korea University professor, Nam Sung-wook, who is familar with affairs related to Kim said the leader had in the past lashed out at his girlfriend during his studies in Switzerland at around the of 15 when she asked him to kick the habit
“When his then-girlfriend asked him to quit smoking on the phone, apparently concerned with his young age at the time, Kim became furious and responded with vulgar language. It was very shocking (to hear such a story) back then,” Nam said last September.