North Korea unveils new weapons in grand military parade
Speaking at a military parade on Saturday, Kim became moved as he paid tribute to the troops for their response to national disasters and preventing a coronavirus outbreak and apologized to citizens for not raising the quality of life.
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“Kim’s modesty and frankness, along with her tears and choking, were all very unusual, even for someone who publicly acknowledges her shortcomings and is used to being expressive,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, independent researcher and former open source analyst in North Korea. for the US government.
The speech, which was clearly carefully crafted to resonate with the national audience, likely cemented Kim’s image as a capable and charismatic leader who also has a human side, she said.
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‘I am really sorry’
Kim – who burst into big smiles when huge new ballistic missiles were displayed in the parade – blamed North Korea’s continuing economic woes on international sanctions, the coronavirus crisis and a series of typhoons and dots ‘damaging floods.
Since taking over from his father in 2011, Kim has made economic progress a cornerstone of his agenda. He also met US President Donald Trump, forming an unprecedented personal relationship that included flowery letters.
But ambitious plans for international trade, construction projects and other economic measures have stalled in the face of sanctions imposed on its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
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The economy was hit again when North Korea closed its borders to almost all traffic due to the pandemic, and summer typhoons caused flooding that further threatened food supplies.
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“Our people trusted me, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, but I wasn’t always up to it,” Kim said, sounding at one point muffled. “I’m so sorry for this.”
Kim said the country’s success in preventing a coronavirus outbreak and addressing other challenges was a “great victory achieved” by citizens.
“Our people have always been grateful to our Party, but it is none other than themselves who certainly deserve a salute of gratitude,” he said.
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Such a focus on citizens was a major departure for such events, where speeches are usually filled with more ideological themes and praise from the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, Lee said.
“The speech was clearly intended to be for and about the people,” she said.
Unlike her estranged father, Kim took his wife to political heights with foreign leaders, often stooping to hug children and mingling with workers in public appearances.
Part of that folkloric approach has shaped its public response to the country’s economic challenges, said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a North Korean economics expert at the US think tank Stimson Center.
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“Kim has been more personally present and visible at disaster and other reconstruction sites, and he has prioritized many symbolic construction projects designed to show economic progress,” he said.
But despite some early steps towards market adoption, Kim is not a staunch reformer, and his policy prescriptions have tended to draw inspiration from the North Korean playbook refined by his father and grandfather, state founder Kim Il Sung, said Silberstein.
The United Nations says that under Kim, North Korea continued to break fundamental freedoms, maintain political prison camps, and strictly monitor its citizens. Kim had her uncle executed, state media reports, and the United States has accused her government of using chemical warfare agent VX to murder her half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in 2017, an allegation that Pyongyang denied.
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Kim last week called on his country to embark on an 80-day “battle for speed” – a campaign to achieve economic goals before a convention in January to decide on a new five-year plan.
Such campaigns, which involve citizens doing “voluntary” extra work, have been described by some residents as “one of the most exhausting and irritating parts of everyday life,” said Silberstein.
“Kim basically left with tears, apologies, battles of speed, and fundraising wherever they can be found,” he said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Alex Richardson)