Kim Jong-un’s vanity has been on display in the promotion of costly yet impractical construction projects that would be worthy of a pharaoh. These public works involve the mobilization of the masses—soldiers and students in addition to laborers—in “speed campaigns” to achieve hasty completion according to Kim Jong-un’s whim. The projects, including an elaborate ski resort, a refurbished amusement park, and an aquarium with a dolphin show, have done little to address the chronic malnutrition and meager living standards of a people isolated in an island of poverty in the midst of the most economically dynamic region of the world.
The projects, ostensibly undertaken to promote tourism, reflect the young general’s narcissistic lifestyle, as vividly described last year by retired basketball star Dennis Rodman. Rodman had made a visit with Kim Jong-un to the latter’s pleasure island, complete with horseback riding, free-flowing alcohol, and yachts.
The indulgent lifestyle probably also explains the use of a cane by thirty-something Kim Jong-un. He allegedly suffers from a series of debilitating illnesses—including obesity, gout, diabetes, and high blood pressure—usually associated with individuals twice his age.
In almost three years in power, Kim Jong-un, who once lived as a student in Switzerland where he was reportedly an avid fan of Western sports teams and rock music, has not left the country. This indicates a degree of insecurity and is in marked contrast to his father, Kim Jong-il, who is thought to have traveled three times to China and once to the Russian Far East during the last two years of his life. Kim Jong-un’s lack of an invitation to visit Beijing, North Korea’s sole ally in the world, has reached the point of embarrassment—especially after President Park Geun-hye of rival South Korea was invited on a state visit to Beijing in 2013, which was reciprocated by a visit to Seoul of Chinese president Xi Jinping this summer.
There is the question of the increasingly frosty relations between the two erstwhile allies. Kim Jong-un’s father was always careful to treat China, North Korea’s economic and energy lifeline, with a degree of respect, even traveling to China in May 2011, although in frail health, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance between China and North Korea. Kim Jong-un, however, has treated China with barely veiled contempt, causing Beijing to lose face when he went forward in early 2013 with a nuclear test despite Chinese admonishments to cease and desist. He then publicly purged and executed his uncle, a key Chinese ally, after condemning him for “economic crimes” linked to a foreign power—obviously a reference to China.
[The Weekly Standard]