May 23, 2024


Imagination at work

Kim Jong Un’s New Look Is More Man Than Superhuman

SEOUL—For many years, North Korea’s ruling Kims portrayed by themselves as quasi-gods, incapable of mistake.

Now, as the state faces some of its hardest issues in years on various fronts, leader

Kim Jong Un

is using a unique tactic. He is displaying himself to be fallible—even human.

With the state contending with the coronavirus pandemic, flood destruction and financial sanctions, Mr. Kim is apologizing, admitting plan missteps and visiting catastrophe zones. He has ordered officers to quit “mythicizing” his family as it could “hide the reality,” according to condition media.

Mr. Kim’s crack with tradition was apparent last 7 days when he speedily apologized above the North Korean killing of a South Korean civil servant, just a day immediately after Seoul officers demanded a response. Pyongyang rarely atones with these types of directness or pace.

The outward expressions of humility are not a signal of weak point, safety authorities say, but alternatively an indication that Mr. Kim sees himself as functioning from a place of toughness, as he sits atop a nuclear arsenal that he claims can strike the U.S. mainland. It also suggests the Kim routine won’t be in a hurry to rekindle nuclear talks with the U.S. to acquire financial aid, they say.

A propaganda poster from 2008 depicts former President Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, as an ‘eternal sunlight.’


Eric LAFFORGUEGamma-Rapho/Getty Pictures

“One thing is sure. North Korea has stopped portraying its leader as godlike under Kim Jong Un,” reported Cheon Seong-whun, a former South Korean nationwide safety official. “Because he can afford to.”

For the duration of a check out to flood-strike places in August, Mr. Kim instructed his people that his financial growth programs experienced run into surprising “deviations and shortcomings,” promising a new five-year plan by early subsequent year.

Mr. Kim seems to be trying to solid himself as a relatable leader to normal citizens, North Korea watchers say. It is also component of the dictator’s broader thrust to develop a course of action-driven governing administration that can count considerably less on the Kim family’s alleged divinity.

Kim Jong Un inspects structures rebuilt immediately after flooding in the village of Kangbuk-ri in North Hwanghae Province, in this image released Sept. fourteen.



Considering the fact that using electrical power in 2011, Mr. Kim has reinstituted typical gatherings of the country’s prime governing bodies, which experienced been mostly suspended under his father. Far more recently, he has delegated precise policies and sectors to advisers, together with his younger sister,

Kim Yo Jong

, as a way of sharing tasks, North Korea authorities reported.

“Is it political window dressing? Certainly. Is it now a South Korean-design democracy? No,” reported

Michael Madden

, an specialist on North Korean management and a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Middle, a Washington think tank. “But Kim Jong Un is trying to ‘normalize’ North Korea as substantially as he can,” he reported.

North Korea for substantially of its heritage hid behind Kim family hagiography and dealt with inside crises substantially in a different way. The leaders functioned under a “no-mistake basic principle,” reported

Koh Yu-hwan

, head of the Korea Institute for National Unification, a South Korean governing administration think tank.

“Since they had been gods, it was impossible for them to commit problems,” Mr. Koh reported.

Kim Jong Un famously appeared driving a white horse on Mount Paektu, reported to be the birthplace of his father, in this Oct 2019 photo.


Yonhap News/Zuma Press

The country’s founder and Mr. Kim’s grandfather,

Kim Il Sung

, could levitate and convert pine cones into bullets and grenades when battling Japan in Environment War II, condition propaganda claimed. His base of operations against Japanese forces was Mount Paektu, which has been employed to deify the Kims, with his descendants becoming referred to as the “Paektu bloodline.” North Korean propaganda claims that shining stars loaded the sky when his son,

Kim Jong Il

, was born on Mount Paektu.

By means of the seventies, North Korea was far more economically affluent than South Korea, giving Kim Il Sung some security. But propaganda rarely, if at any time, showed visuals of North Korea’s afterwards financial turmoil as the routine teetered on the verge of collapse in the early nineteen nineties, close to the conclude of his rule. Propaganda claimed Kim Il Sung could management the weather, but there is minimal proof he was ready to do substantially to make improvements to the predicament as a result of his policies.

No report displays his son, Kim Jong Il, touring regions challenging-strike by flooding and famine immediately after he took above in 1994. North Korean condition media under no circumstances fully claimed on the crises, as an alternative publishing visuals of Kim Jong Il roasting potatoes with comrades above a campfire.

North Korean founder Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il look with little ones in this 2009 poster.


Eric LAFFORGUE/Corbis/Getty Pictures

Confronted with financial hardship, Kim Jong Il prevented routine collapse by negotiating for financial help from the U.S. and South Korea in return for promising to denuclearize—even though Pyongyang secretly saved enriching uranium and promoting weapons to the Middle East.

In his early years in electrical power, Kim Jong Un indulged in the family’s mythmaking. North Korean textbooks claimed he could generate a automobile at the age of 3 and won a yacht race at 9.


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But under Mr. Kim’s orders, the North’s main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, admitted in Could that Kim Il Sung did not have the electrical power to levitate. In the very same month, the newspaper argued in an editorial that propaganda now experienced to be far more realistic.

Mr. Kim has manufactured variations to the way the family is portrayed as far more exterior info has seeped into the state. Cell-cell phone use and cross-border smuggling are prevalent, and lots of North Koreans secretly communicate with families who escaped to the South.

In the meantime, the North Korean leader has set himself on a unique footing than his predecessors. He has fulfilled with President Trump three occasions and, by his possess account, the North completed its nuclear software far more than two years ago. It is a point that he often mentions, together with in a July speech.

“Thanks to our dependable and powerful self-protection nuclear deterrence, the phrase ‘war’ would no for a longer period exist on this land, and the safety and potential of our condition will be assured forever,” Mr. Kim reported.

A far cry from hawkish newscasts and shows of the regime’s weapons arsenal, North Korea’s vloggers showcase a softer side of existence in Pyongyang. Here’s how the state is revamping its propaganda machine to target new audiences who discuss English, French and Chinese. Picture composite: Sharon Shi

Publish to Andrew Jeong at [email protected]

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