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Propaganda

Kim Jong-un reappears in public – again – as Korean reunification talks hurtle towards ‘failure’

North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un presides over a meeting of the Politburo of the Korea Worker's Party, 7 June 2020
North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un presides over a meeting of the Politburo of the Korea Worker's Party, 7 June 2020 © KCNA via agencies

North Korea’s strongman Kim Jong-un has resurfaced once again after an absence of fourteen days. According to state media, Kim chaired a meeting of the politburo of the Korean Workers' Party. Meanwhile, the chances of success in the dialogue between North and South Korea are narrowing as the war of words continues between Pyongyang and Seoul.

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In a nine-part slideshow jointly published on Monday by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, Kim is shown happy, smiling and gesticulating, while sitting at an enormous table with officials. Kim, looking puffy, is the only one dressed in white. He is flanked by veteran aides Choe Ryong-hae and Pak Pong-jsu.

According to KCNA, the meeting focused on plans to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers' Party (KWP) on 10 October 1945, which will be marked with mass performances, probably including a military parade in the fashion of Stalin’s Soviet Union.

Crucial topics

Other crucial questions discussed included “the self-sufficient economy of the country and improving the standard of people's living," KCNA said, while Kim emphasised the importance of the country's chemical industry, “including production of fertilizer,” a central topic in current North Korean news coverage. 

Kim Jong-un presiding over a meeting of the Politburo of the Korean Worker's Party, 7 June 2020
Kim Jong-un presiding over a meeting of the Politburo of the Korean Worker's Party, 7 June 2020 © KCNA via agencies

Kim's first public appearance this year was at a fertilizer factory under construction. He returned there on 1 May after some weeks out of the spotlight when the factory opened – one day after a North Korean defector now living in the south declared with “99 percent certainty” that Kim was dead. 

Merciless punishment

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, who is currently the vice-head of the WPK’s “Propaganda and Agitation Department” which controls state media, last week launched a vicious attack against North Korean defectors responsible for sending large numbers of balloons carrying propaganda leaflets across the demilitarised zone which separates the north from the south. 

“On 31 May I heard a report that so-called ‘defectors from the North’ scattered hundreds of thousands of anti-Democratic People's Republic of Korea leaflets into the areas on our side of the frontline areas,” she wrote in a statement published by the state-run KCNA, calling the defectors “mongrel dogs,” “human scum” and “riff-raff”.

South Korean activists release balloons carrying anti-North Korea leaflets at a park near the inter-Korea border in Paju, north of Seoul. Pamphlet launches by North Korean defectors are an irritant for Pyongyang.
South Korean activists release balloons carrying anti-North Korea leaflets at a park near the inter-Korea border in Paju, north of Seoul. Pamphlet launches by North Korean defectors are an irritant for Pyongyang. AFP - JUNG YEON-JE

Her attacks were repeated in state media. On 6 June, members of the North Korean Youth League staged a protest meeting against the “human scum” defectors who “need to be punished mercilessly to the last man”.

Dregs of society

The South Korean Unification Ministry indicated that it would propose legislation to limit the defectors' pamphleteering, but, according to a letter published on Monday by an “officer of the Korean People’s Army” in the Pyongyang Times, that is far from enough to satisfy the North.

Referring to the defectors as “frogs” prepared to “jump into a swamp even if they are sitting on a throne,” these “dregs of society who are forsaken by the human world” would try to “do something for their master,” presumably the government in Seoul, “only to cause nuisance.” Moreover, South Korea didn’t do much to prevent the flow of hot-air balloons with anti-Pyongyang propaganda, “pretending ignorance on the pretext of ‘freedom of speech’.”

Total failure

Meanwhile, an article in the Rodong Sinmun said that relations between North and South Korea – defined by a painstakingly slow dialogue on family reunifications and forms of economic cooperation – are in jeopardy.

“Even though the present South Korean authorities are trumpeting about the ‘dialogue’ and the ‘implementation of the South-North declaration,’ it is little short of an act of putting on airs. No one can deny that the promises repeatedly made by them are all hypocrisy and deception.

“The south Korean authorities will have to foresee the worst phase in the not too distant future,” the newspaper predicts. “North-South relations may face total failure.”

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