Just like that, Kim Jong-un was back. Despite his disappearances, this latest incident does reveal that the present leader is relatively more open than his father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather, “Eternal President” Kim Il-sung. Neither ever publicly acknowledged so much as having a wife, let alone any other human frailties. The first Kim was always carefully photographed to avoid showing the huge goiter on his neck, while the second suffered a series of maladies – including an apparent stroke in 2008 – that were never mentioned in the North Korean press.
But in last Tuesday’s reports, there was 31-year-old Kim Jong-un propped up on a cane at the apartment complex, holding the cane as he rode around on an electric cart, leaning on it as he sat on a couch.
“There is a pattern here of being more forthcoming, a little less cryptic,” said John Delury, a North Korea watcher at Yonsei University in Seoul. “His father was always restrained, keeping his distance, but Kim Jong-un is shown shaking hands, with his arms around people, slapping their backs. He’s more like a Bill Clinton or Tony Blair.”
Of course, none of this is to suggest that North Korea has suddenly become an open, liberal democracy. But it is part of a pattern of marginally greater transparency that began when Kim succeeded his father at the end of 2011.
When a satellite intended to celebrate the centenary of the founding president Kim’s birth failed to reach orbit in 2012, Pyongyang immediately conceded that the launch had been a failure – something that would have been unthinkable in the second Kim’s “military first” era.
Last year, state media reported in vivid detail that Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-taek, had been purged and later executed. This year, the official mouthpieces said that an apartment building, part of a great construction boom under Kim, had collapsed.
More recently, North Korea has admitted to running “reform through labor” camps, although its description was a far cry from the brutal gulags described by defectors. It is even engaging with the United Nations on human rights, albeit in the very limited way.
[South China Morning Post]