Kim Yong Un increasing in confidence, popular with his people

We usually only see superficial headlines about North Korean leader Kim Yong Un. His visit to China this week hit the headlines. It was his first trip abroad since becoming leader in 2011, and is as significant as his proposed meeting with US president Donald Trump in May. There are obvious changes to North Korea’s international relationships.

A report suggests this may be due to an increase confidence of Kim in his power, and it also says that he is doing ok with ordinary people due to gradual economic reforms.

Financial Time: North Korea: Why Kim Jong Un came in from the cold

He controls a million-strong army and runs a nuclear weapons programme but for years Kim Jong Un has ruled with a nagging sense of fear. The young North Korean dictator, some argue, was afraid to leave his isolated, impoverished nation in case his generals launched a coup or foreign forces used the opportunity to bring his brutal reign to an abrupt end.

Such notions were shattered this week as a private armoured train trundled 20 hours from Pyongyang to Beijing for Mr Kim’s first trip abroad as paramount leader of North Korea.

The visit, initially shrouded in secrecy with the Chinese capital on lockdown, was seen by experts as an attempt to mend Pyongyang’s frayed ties with Beijing — its principal backer — ahead of a possible summit between Mr Kim and US president Donald Trump in May. But to others it signalled something more: the dictator’s growing confidence in his hold on power — a position that he has for years meticulously strengthened through a series of political, economic and military policies that are becoming synonymous with his reign.

Kim has been ruthless with the military and North Korean elite in establishing his power, but has been reduced restrictions for ordinary people.

Mr Kim has followed a three-pronged strategy to cement his grip on power: high-level political repression, grassroots economic liberalisation and the unwavering development of his nation’s nuclear programme.

Surveys of defectors appear to show that his policies are having an impact. They indicate that Mr Kim enjoys broad support among ordinary North Koreans, while analysts now believe he has the nation’s military on a tight leash.

Unlike Kim Jong Il — his father whose reign became associated with a famine that killed hundreds of thousands in the 1990s — Mr Kim has focused his ire mainly on the North Korean elite and military, leaving his image among the wider populace relatively unscathed.

“From the people’s perspective, the purging of elites is seen as the right thing to do due to their alleged wrongdoings,” says Kim Young-soo, a professor at Sogang University in Seoul.

Alongside purges of the elite, Mr Kim has also taken steps, via a rebooted propaganda operation, to bolster his image among ordinary North Koreans.

Human rights violations still plague the nation, with arrests, forced labour and executions endemic. But like Maoist China, Mr Kim has honed his cult of personality, which appears to keep him above the fray. He is regularly portrayed in state media with a broad grin or engaged in frivolous activities with civilians or soldiers.

Most importantly for his reputation, however, Mr Kim has overseen a period of quiet but effective and gradual economic reform by allowing the spread of markets and de facto private enterprises, which have led to a clear uptick in wage levels and the standard of living.

If Kim can improve his international relations, including pulling North Korea back from brink of nuclear escalation, plus improve the standard of living for the people of North Korea, he may not totally be the bogeyman and despot as often portrayed and assumed.

Trump could play his part.

23 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  March 31, 2018

    ‘he may not totally be the bogeyman and despot as often portrayed and assumed’…yes if he comes to heel.the powers that be in media will reinvent him with a charm offensive.He will have to be careful…the transmogrification of Gaddaffi did not end well for Gaddaffi or…Libya.

  2. duperez

     /  March 31, 2018

    I like it. Kim purging of elites gains him popularity as the ‘ordinary’ people see someone else being dealt to rather than them. Entrenching the love/liking/admiration/popularity of Kim through fear?

  3. Just don’t let him anywhere near antiaircraft cannon with relatives he doesn’t like.
    The populace have no option. Love Kim or die

  4. artcroft

     /  March 31, 2018

    With Beijing back on side he only has to worry about Trump. And Trump is easily manipulated.

    • David

       /  March 31, 2018

      If Trump is so easily manipulated, how did Hillary not manipulate him into losing the election?

      Obama is the ‘smartest guy in the room’, and he couldn’t manipulate him either. What’s going on?

      • artcroft

         /  March 31, 2018

        Hillary won the popular vote despite being a terrible candidate, Obama wasn’t running against Trump. Trump’s narcism makes him open to flattery and influence. If I was an Iranian or North Korean leader I’d fancy my chances against Trump over Obama.

        • David

           /  March 31, 2018

          Winning the ‘popular’ vote wins you exactly nothing. Only a profoundly stupid person would believe it was any kind of achievement, or are you saying Hillary didn’t know anything about the US electoral system?

          Note that it was Obama that signed a deal with Iran that hands them everything they want for nothing in return, he was just as vulnerable to a bit of flattery as well.

          You have avoided my question too. Hillary is the most experienced politician to run for president for decades, how come she did not use Trump’s narcissism against him? It should have been a slam dunk.

          • Gezza

             /  March 31, 2018

            Ah – but The Russians – and Julian Assange – and Cambridge Analytica …

  5. Corky

     /  March 31, 2018

    Arty, have you got tumbleweed in your ears? Remember the story of that old sheriff who went up against the fastest slinger in Broken Wagon County? The old dude had no chance, so he called the time of the show down and placed himself in a strategic position. Once them boys were squared off, the old sheriff moved slightly allowing the sun to shine off his Sheriffs badge and blind the slinger. The slinger was dead before he hit the ground. That old Sheriff had worn his badge with pride for over forty years. Boot Hill was full full of people
    who had writ him off.

  6. NOEL

     /  March 31, 2018

    It was fasinating when watching that program produced by journalists accompanying under cover an eye surgeon correcting sight problems caused in many cases by famine.
    When the eye patch was removed none of the patients went up to thank the surgical team but deviated to stand in front of their Leaders picture to offer thanks.

  7. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  March 31, 2018

    Kim Yong-un 김용은 is not the same person as Kim Jong-un 김정은.

    • Gezza

       /  March 31, 2018

      I see. Two completely different characters, they are. 🙂

  8. David

     /  March 31, 2018

    “Trump could play his part.”

    What makes you think Trump has not been pivotal in getting to this point?

    • Gezza

       /  March 31, 2018

      What makes you think Kim has not been pivotal in getting Trump to this point?
      No US President has ever met a leader of North Korea.

      • David

         /  March 31, 2018

        Of course Kim is pivotal, he leads the nation that is the ‘problem’.

        • Gezza

           /  March 31, 2018

          He could be leading the problem.

          • Gezza

             /  March 31, 2018

            Or even leading the problem on. From Kim’s perspective.
            Think about who stands to benefit most from this meeting with Trump, from as many angles as you can.

          • David

             /  March 31, 2018

            I think you will find NK has been a problem for a little longer than the last 12 months…

            • Blazer

               /  March 31, 2018

              a problem in what..way?

            • Gezza

               /  March 31, 2018

              Still waiting to hear your thoughts on who stands to benefit most from this meeting with Trump from as many angles as you can. If your mind is blank – just say so. It happens.