Kim Jong Un’s admission on failures hard to swallow - GulfToday

Kim Jong Un’s admission on failures hard to swallow

Kim Jong Un

Kim Jong Un

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has, of late, been trying to portray the human side of his personality. Recently, at a military parade, he shed tears as he thanked citizens for their sacrifices. Kim became emotional as he paid tribute to troops for their response to national disasters and preventing a coronavirus outbreak and apologised to citizens for failing to raise living standards.

This was the most striking manifestation yet of how he is banking on his ‘man of the masses’ image to shore up his cachet on the international stage. Perhaps he is keen to fight the authoritarian tag attached to his persona.

But is that possible? The young leader has consolidated his rule in general over the isolated nation with reported unreasonable changes.

Yet North Korea watchers say he has also sought to portray himself as a more traditional political leader than his unpredictable father, Kim Jong Il. He was always watched but admired rarely.

Kim pins the blame for North Korea’s continuing economic hardship on international sanctions, the coronavirus crisis and a series of damaging typhoons and floods.

In September last year, Kim Jong Un offered a rare apology over the killing of a South Korean official near the disputed sea boundary. Kim said he was “very sorry” about the incident, which he described as unexpected and “unsavoury”, South Korea has said.

The move is highly unusual.

On Wednesday, Kim Jong Un admitted that “almost all sectors” had fallen short of their economic targets as he opened a rare congress of the ruling Workers’ Party.

Relations with Washington have been deadlocked since talks between Kim and President Donald Trump stalled over sanctions relief and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

North Korea is more isolated than ever after closing its borders last January to protect itself against the coronavirus that first emerged in neighbour and key ally China.

The congress opened on Tuesday in the capital Pyongyang. Footage on state television showed 7,000 delegates and attendees packed into the cavernous hall – none of them wearing masks – rising as one to applaud Kim as he entered. On the first day of his work review, Kim said that under the last five-year economic plan, “almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives”.

The strategy was quietly scrapped ahead of schedule last year.

The coronavirus pandemic has added to the pressures on the North, with Pyongyang blockading itself far more effectively than even the most hawkish backer of sanctions could ever hope to achieve.

Trade with key ally China is at a tiny fraction of the usual level, while many foreign embassies have closed or drastically reduced their representations.  Pyongyang insists that it has not had a single case of the disease — observers doubt the claim — but summer floods put further strain on its finances. The run-up to the congress saw the entire country mobilised in an 80-day drive to boost the economy, featuring extra-long work hours and additional duties for many.

The incoming US president has characterised Kim as a “thug”, while Pyongyang has called him a “rabid dog”.

Donald Trump, the man notorious for his loud thinking and rhetoric, said that Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un are more mentally fit than the Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The American President appears to be a great fan of the North Korean leader, and even saluted one of his generals at a summit, according to a report. Now that Trump will be vacating the White House soon, it remains to be seen whether North Korea will continue to maintain its belligerent stance against America or whether it will adopt a soft posture.

Related articles