5 ways N Korea has changed in 5 years un­der Kim Jong Un

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

It’s been five years since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took power fol­low­ing the death of his fa­ther, Kim Jong Il, whose demise was ob­served at mon­u­ments and on city cen­ter plazas across the na­tion Satur­day. Here’s a look at five ways the coun­try that has now been ruled by three gen­er­a­tions of Kim start­ing with grand­fa­ther Kim Il Sung has changed since the as­cen­sion of its 30-some­thing “re­spected mar­shal.”

The man him­self

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, in­clud­ing a four-hour ad­dress at his rul­ing party’s congress in May. 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.

Nukes, mis­siles and rock­ets

Turn­ing North Korea into a nu­clear power wasn’t Kim Jong Un’s idea - it al­most cer­tainly orig­i­nated with Kim Il Sung him­self - 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. Kim Jong Un’s North Korea has been sprint­ing to the fin­ish line of a vi­able nu­clear arse­nal and the ad­vanced mis­sile tech­nol­ogy needed to at­tack South Korea, Ja­pan and the 50,000 US troops it hosts, the key US mil­i­tary out­post of Guam and the US main­land it­self. At the same time, and some ar­gue for largely the same rea­sons, the North un­der Kim has also joined the space race, putting satel­lites into or­bit and aim­ing to reach the moon within the next decade.

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. To suit his goals, Kim has shifted more power to the rul­ing party and to his Cabi­net and put the na­tion on col­lec­tive over­time with re­peated “loy­alty cam­paigns.” It re­mains to be seen how sus­tain­able his two-pronged nukes-and-but­ter pol­icy will be in the face of in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions and in­ter­nal, sys­temic weak­nesses. So far, it has been at least work­able. The North is al­ready a de-facto nu­clear state and its econ­omy, though frag­ile and no doubt underperforming, is show­ing small but per­sis­tent growth.

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. The rel­a­tively af­flu­ent cap­i­tal of Py­ongyang - home to the North’s most for­tu­nate - has seen a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in every­thing from taxis to cof­fee shops and streets stalls. 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.

Keep­ing the masses en­ter­tained

Kim Jong Un has on sev­eral oc­ca­sions vowed to make North Korea a “more civ­i­lized” na­tion. His sig­na­ture de­vel­op­ment projects in­clude an eques­trian cen­ter and sprawl­ing wa­ter park in Py­ongyang and a lux­ury ski re­sort near the port city of Won­san on the east coast. He has tried to give his regime some­thing of a softer face through the all-fe­male Mo­ran­bong Band, which sings its odes to him in a de­cid­edly pop, and vaguely tit­il­lat­ing, man­ner. Kim also gen­er­ated a ma­jor na­tional sen­sa­tion by or­der­ing a Dis­neyqual­ity update to the “Boy Gen­eral” anime se­ries orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned by his fa­ther. On another ma­jor front, Kim has made a big shift to­ward sports - vow­ing North Korea will be­come a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional sports power - pre­sum­ably as a means of bol­ster­ing health and na­tional pride and pro­vid­ing the masses with a rel­a­tively in­nocu­ous di­ver­sion from their daily lives.

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