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Ambassador: Kim Jong Un Trying to Show New Image with Reappearance

  • Baik Sungwon

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance at the newly built Wisong Scientists Residential District in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang October 14, 2014.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance at the newly built Wisong Scientists Residential District in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang October 14, 2014.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is demonstrating a new ruling style which could contribute to social and economic changes of the communist country, a foreign diplomat in Pyongyang said.

Since taking power after his father’s sudden death in late 2011, the Swiss-educated young leader has taken bold steps, many of them in stark contrast with his predecessors’.

How Kim returned to the public eye after disappearing for over a month also projected a new image of a leader. Kim reappeared in public with a walking stick, a scene that the North Korean public may not be familiar with. In the past, the country’s leaders were often portrayed in state media as infallible in every regard.

“Since Kim Jong Un ascended to power, he has placed an emphasis on close contact with the public and shown a strong desire for economic development,” said Roberto Colin, Brazilian Ambassador to North Korea, in an e-mail sent to VOA on Wednesday. Colin has been the ambassador since March 2012 and offered his observation of the North’s leadership and life in the country.

Colin said the North has been experiencing social and economic changes since Kim has been in power. Changes are particularly visible in Pyongyang, he said.

“Today’s everyday life in Pyongyang shows visible quantitative and qualitative changes,” said Colin.

He elaborated that the country has poured money into projects aimed at improving living standards, such as building new apartments or hospitals.

“If you have money, anything and everything is available in Pyongyang. There are good supermarkets and all kinds of fast food restaurants as well as a series of new private and expensive gourmet restaurants,” said Colin.

However, the diplomat doubted whether the changes could lead to changes in the country’s political system.

“The question is whether the many superficial and small changes we are witnessing in this country, mostly in Pyongyang, since Kim Jong Un ascended to power will lead to fundamental changes in the system,” Colin said.

Colin noted that some of the changes are not initiated by the regime, as elements of market mechanisms began to emerge after the collapse of state’s food distribution system in the 1990s.

“The social and economic transformation in course in this country was neither initiated nor endorsed by the authorities. It was rather tolerated by them,” explained Colin.

Colin believes the international community needs to pay closer attention to the “social, economic, and political implications of the rise of the market economy” to “induce a peaceful transition” and integrate the country to the international community.

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