‘I HAVE FAILED’: Kim shows tearful side in confronting N.Korea’s hardships
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So much focus on citizens was a major departure for such events, where speeches are usually filled with more ideological themes and lauding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, said Lee.
“The speech was clearly intended to be for and about the people,” she said.
In contrast to his remote father, Kim has taken his wife to political summits with foreign leaders, often stoops to hug children and mingles with workers at public appearances.
Some of this folksy approach has shaped his public response to the country’s economic challenges, said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a North Korean economy expert at the U.S-based Stimson Center think-tank.
“Kim has been more personally present and visible at disaster reconstruction sites and the like, and he’s prioritized a lot of the symbolic construction projects designed to show economic progress,” he said.
But despite some early moves towards embracing markets, Kim is not an out-an-out reformer and his policy prescriptions have tended to draw on the North Korea playbook honed by his father and grandfather, state founder Kim Il Sung, Silberstein said.
The United Nations says that, under Kim, North Korea has continued to quash basic freedoms, maintaining political prison camps and strict surveillance of its citizens. Kim had his uncle executed, according to state media, and the United States accused his government of using the chemical warfare agent VX assassinate his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, in 2017, an allegation Pyongyang has denied.
Last week Kim called on his country to embark on an 80-day “speed battle” – a campaign to attain economic goals before a congress in January to decide a new five-year plan.
Such campaigns, which involve citizens performing “voluntary” extra labor, have been described by some residents as “one of the most exhausting, irritating parts of everyday life,” Silberstein said.
“Kim’s essentially left with tears, apologies, speed battles and squeezing out funds wherever they can be found,” he said.