The Korea Herald


NK leader’s public appearances dropped 30% in 2017

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Dec. 29, 2017 - 13:51

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s public activities were about 30 percent less frequent this year compared to 2016, with his visits mostly focusing on military affairs, a year-end analysis of news reports and data showed. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap) North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)

“Analysis showed that this indicates that the regime has been stably controlled and (Kim) has strengthened internal solidarity, reducing the need for public activities,” Lee Eugene, vice spokesperson at Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said at a regular briefing Friday, referring to such reports.

Kim conducted 93 inspections between Jan. 1 and Dec. 28, which marked the least number of public appearances since he rose to power in 2011, according to an analysis of reports by Yonhap News Agency and Unification Ministry data here. Last year, the number was tallied at 133.

Military-related tours made up the largest portion at 44 percent, in line with Kim’s recurring appearances in photos that depicted the North’s nuclear and missile development program throughout the year. The figure is also a record-high for military inspections by Kim since 2011.

This year alone, North Korea test-launched a total of three intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test in September. The latest ICBM experiment in September signaled an advancement in its nuclear weapons program, with experts saying that it could reach the US mainland if launched on a standard trajectory.

Japan’s Nihon Keizai said Thursday that Kim’s less frequent public appearances may be due to nervousness over a possible “decapitation plan” to take out the North’s leadership by the South Korea-US joint forces. It added that Kim Jong-un has been moving around dawn to avoid being detected by the US reconnaissance satellite and has been using one of his aide’s vehicles rather than his own.

Nihon Keizai’s report echoes the South Korean spy agency’s claims in June that the young dictator prefers to operate at dawn and uses his subordinates’ cars, such as a Lexus car, instead of his own Mercedes-Benz 600. Kim has been collecting information about the “clandestine operation” through his own intelligence agency, the South’s National Intelligence Service said at a closed-door parliamentary session, according to Rep. Lee Cheol-woo of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, who attended the meeting.

Earlier this month, Seoul allocated some 340 million won ($310,000) for a South Korean “decapitation unit” tasked with eliminating North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, the Defense Ministry here said.

But the NIS also saw the drop in public appearances as a sign of Kim’s stabilization of power within the North Korean government.

North Korea’s ruling party also reportedly underwent a large-scale personnel reshuffle earlier this year in a bid to strengthen the regime’s sovereignty. Experts saw it as a move to cement Kim’s place in the government.

Hwang Pyong-so, a top military official viewed as the North’s second most powerful figure, mysteriously disappeared in October, and the NIS told lawmakers here the he had been punished for having an “impure attitude” toward Kim.

Lee said that the Unification Ministry has yet to find evidence that backs foreign news reports suggesting Hwang’s execution.

Meanwhile, Kim’s appearances related to the economy made up about 27 percent of all his public appearances, the analysis showed.

Overall, Kim has been faithfully carrying out his plan to seek nuclear armament and economic growth for the prosperity of North Korea, also known as the “byongjin policy,” in 2017.

By Jung Min-kyung (