It’s been five years since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took power following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. Here’s a look at five ways the country has changed:
- Kim Jong Un is in some ways a lot more like his charismatic and gregarious, albeit brutal and megalomaniacal, grandfather than Kim Jong Il. He has gone out of his way to milk that resemblance, right down to adopting his trademark haircut from a seemingly bygone era. While his father almost never spoke in public, Kim Jong Un has done so on any number of occasions. On the flip side, one of his most important moves to consolidate power — the execution of his powerful uncle and the purges that ensued — demonstrated both his personal independence and his willingness to employ the same kind of oppressive tools that were the hallmarks of both his father and grandfather. And, despite a short-lived friendship with former NBA bad boy Dennis Rodman, he has yet to travel abroad or meet a foreign head of state.
- Turning North Korea into a nuclear power wasn’t Kim Jong Un’s idea but it’s defined his first five years. Of the five nuclear tests North Korea has conducted, three have been under his watch and two, including its most powerful to date and its first of what Pyongyang claims was an H-bomb, were this year.
- North Korea’s main motto under Kim Jong Il was “Military First.” Under Kim Jong Un, the focus is now on building more and better nukes and bolstering the national economy, in large part through developing science and technology.
- Probably more out of pragmatic necessity than anything else, Kim Jong Un has allowed capitalist-style markets and entrepreneurialism to expand, invigorating the domestic economy and creating new revenue streams for the government, which profits by either taking a cut or by directly supporting such enterprises. Changes in farming policy that let individuals personally benefit from bigger harvests have boosted agricultural output. But the rise of the “cash masters,” an empowered middle class more open to capitalist ideals, or just more determined to acquire material wealth, could prove to be a problem for Kim down the road.
- Kim Jong Un has on several occasions vowed to make North Korea a “more civilized” nation.