The North Korean state newspaper has admitted that the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, cannot bend space and time after years of mythologising him.
The admission from the Rodong Sinmun newspaper is the latest sign that the country is moving away from propagandizing myths about its leaders, and is instead taking an approach that focuses on humanising the dictator, according to analysts.
‘In realistic terms, a person cannot suddenly disappear and reappear by folding space,’ the newspaper said this week, denying that members of the Kim family are capable of ‘chukjibeop’ – a hypothetical method of folding space and quickly travelling great distances.
In Korean, the term is translated as ‘distance-shrinking magic’, and is akin to supernatural speed or teleportation.
Speaking on Thursday, an official from South Korea’s unification ministry said that the secretive regime’s trend of demystifying its leaders – Kim Jong Un and his father and former leader Kim Jong-il – is ‘noteworthy’, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
‘It appears to stress patriotism and love for the people rather than mystification of the leaders. We will further analyze its implications,’ the official said to the agency.
Since the failure to arrive at an agreement with U.S. President Donald Trump at their second summit in Hanoi last year, Kim Jong Un has taken efforts to show his more ‘human’ side, and has urged people not to mythologise him.
Pictured: Kim Jong Un supposedly makes his first public appearance after 20 days of absence that sparked rumours about his health, and suggestions that he had died as a result of a botched heart surgery
Speaking in March last year after the breakdown in negotiations, state media quoted Kim saying: ‘Mystifying a leader’s revolutionary activity and appearance would result in covering the truth.’
‘Absolute loyalty would spring up when (they) are mesmerized by the leader humanly and comradely,’ he added.
Earlier this month, Kim Jong Un appeared to make his first public appearance after 20 days of absence, which sparked rumours about his health.
Some reports in April said that he had undergone heart surgery, with one Japanese news outlet saying that the surgery had gone wrong and he was in a vegetative state. Other outlets went as far to say that he had died.
Since then, South Korean intelligence officials have said there was no sign Kim Jong Un underwent a heart operation, following rumours that he was ‘gravely ill’ or even dead following surgery.
However, Kim Jong Un has made an unusually small number of public appearances in the past two months, once again going three weeks without state media reporting his attendance at a public event, according to analysts, but could be due to the coronavirus.
Speaking to a parliamentary committee on May 6, the head of South Korea’s intelligence agency, Suh Hoon said there was nothing to indicate the rumours about Kim’s ill-health were true.
‘The NIS assesses that at least he did not get any heart-related procedure or surgery,’ committee member Kim Byung-kee told reporters. ‘He was normally performing his duties when he was out of the public eye.’
‘At least there’s no heart-related health problem.’
Since the failure to arrive at an agreement with U.S. President Donald Trump at their second summit in Hanoi last year (pictured, June 30, 2019), Kim Jong Un has taken efforts to show his more ‘human’ side
But the lawmaker said Kim Jong Un only made 17 public appearances so far this year, compared with an average of 50 from previous years, which the NIS ascribed to a possible coronavirus outbreak in North Korea.
‘Kim Jong Un had focused on consolidating internal affairs such as military forces and party-state meetings, and coronavirus concerns have further limited his public activity,’ Kim Byung-kee said.
‘Though North Korea maintains it has zero cases, it cannot be ruled out that there is an outbreak there given they had active people-to-people exchanges with China before closing the border in late January.’
Kim’s low profile comes as North Korea imposes anti-coronavirus measures, although the country says it has no confirmed cases, and follows intense speculation about his health last month after he missed a key anniversary.
Kim has appeared publicly four times in April and so far in May, compared to 27 times in the same period last year.
Since coming to power in 2011, the previous fewest public appearances Kim has made during those months was 21 in 2017, according to a tally by Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, a Seoul-based organisation that tracks North Korea.
‘This is not business as normal,’ he said in a post on Twitter this week.
A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency shows Kim Jong Un (picturedd centre, May 1) cutting a ribon at a completion ceremony of a factory, marking his supposed first public appearance in 20 days
As a leader with near-absolute power over North Korea’s 25.5 million people, and access to a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, Kim’s health and whereabouts are often scrutinized by the international community for any signs of instability.
Information in North Korea is tightly controlled, however, and independently confirmed details on Kim are almost non-existent.
South Korean officials have said they believe Kim’s limited public appearances may be precautions in the face of coronavirus concerns. North Korea has cancelled, postponed, or toned down many major public gatherings because the new coronavirus.
When asked about Kim’s absences, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Friday it is monitoring the situation, but noted Kim is often out of the public eye.
Citing an unnamed South Korean government official, JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported Kim may be carrying out his duties from a favoured villa in Wonsan, on the coast.
But the North Korean leader may also simply be focused on some of the domestic economic and political goals he outlined before the coronavirus crisis struck, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a former North Korea open source intelligence analyst in the U.S. government.
‘COVID does remain a major concern for the country, but state media coverage of COVID has declined over the past month or so, so I don’t seen regime’s increased concern,’ she said.
Friday marks three weeks since state media last showed images of Kim attending a public event.
North Korean state media reported Kim attended the opening ceremony of a fertilizer plant on May 1. That appearance marked a reemergence for Kim, whose unprecedented absence from a major holiday on April 15 sparked weeks of international speculation over his health and whereabouts.
Since then, state media has carried a steady stream of stories on Kim sending or receiving letters and diplomatic correspondence, but have not shown him attending public events.
North Korean media have for years propagandized myths about the Kim family, perpetuating beliefs that they are capable of superhuman feats. Pictured: Residents of Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, watch Kim Jong Un’s first supposed public appearance on large screens, May 1
Kim Jong Un has made an unusually low number of public appearances this year. Experts believe this is due to Covid-19, although North Korea claims to have seen zero cases of the virus despite its shared border with China, where the virus is believed to have originated from
Meanwhile, North Korea has halted talks with the United States until the results of the US presidential election in November are known, Russia’s ambassador to Pyongyang told news agencies Wednesday.
President Donald Trump has met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un three times at historic summits and voiced admiration for him, although hopes of striking a comprehensive agreement have faded.
‘As for dialogue with Washington, which they deem to be pointless for now, it seems to have been postponed at least until after the US presidential election,’ Ambassdaor Alexander Matsegora told Interfax news agency in an interview.
‘They shall see what happens next,’ he said.
North Korea has fired off a series of rockets as it demands concessions from the Trump administration, which says that international sanctions should remain until the regime fully denuclearizes.
Matsegora said he expects dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang to eventually resume, adding Russia was unhappy with the suspension of talks that could increase tension in the border region.
‘Clearly, Moscow cannot be happy with the deep-freeze in the US-North Korean dialogue, which is fraught with an escalation of tensions in the region adjacent to our Far Eastern border,’ he said.
The ambassador also criticised US sanctions on North Korea which he said were hindering supplies of crucial medical equipment to Pyongyang.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in March called for sanctions relief during the coronavirus pandemic, telling G20 leaders it was a matter ‘of life and death’.
Matsegora said sanctions were blocking the supply of medications and medical equipment to North Korea and Washington was ‘hunting down anyone who has at least some trade with North Korea, even if completely harmless things are supplied.’