However, a new mystery has also emerged: why is he using a walking stick?
Mr Kim – last seen publicly at a concert on 3 September – appeared in images released by state media today, grinning and supporting himself with a cane while touring the new Wisong Scientists Residential District in Pyongyang, part of his regular “field guidance” tours.
Officials did not say when the visit took place and did not address the issue of his health.
Mr Kim’s appearance allowed the North’s propaganda apparatus to continue doing what it does best – glorify the third generation of Kim family rule. And it will dampen, at least for now, rumours of a coup and serious health problems.
Before today, Mr Kim missed several high-profile events he normally attends and was described in an official documentary last month as suffering “discomfort”.
A South Korean analyst said Mr Kim probably re-emerged to dispel outside speculation he was not in control and win sympathy from a home 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 Sejong Institute in South Korea.
It was the first time a North Korean leader allowed himself to be seen relying on a cane or crutch, South Korean officials said. Mr Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, who reportedly had a stroke in 2008 before dying of a heart
attack in 2011, was seen limping but never with a stick, nor was the country’s founder, Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung.
Mr Cheong said Mr Kim appeared in the recent images to have lost about 20lb compared to pictures from May.
He speculated that since Mr Kim was holding a cane on his left side he may have had surgery on his left ankle.
Mr Kim “appears to want to show people 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,” said Mr Cheong.
The recent absence was, in part, “probably an attention-getting device – and it certainly works,” said Bruce Cumings, an expert on Korea at the University of Chicago.
“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,” he added.