North Korea leader Kim Jong Un publicly rebuked officials for the “pathetic” management of an amusement park in Pyongyang in an effort to bolster his image five months after taking power in the totalitarian state.
Kim toured the Mangyongdae Funfair in the capital and pointed out a broken pavement and chipped paint on rides while plucking weeds, the official Korean Central New Agency said yesterday. Improving the facility should be “an opportunity to remove outdated ideological views from officials’ heads and end their old work-style,” KCNA quoted him as saying.
Kim, believed to be under 30, became head of the country after his father Kim Jong Il died in December, inheriting an economy isolated through global sanctions and wracked by malnutrition. His condemnation of the conditions at the amusement park may be the latest effort to shore up his power base by reinforcing an image as an engaged leader, said analysts including Park Young Ho.
“This is Kim’s blatant effort to appeal to the public as a young leader thoroughly engaged in improving the people’s economic lives,” said Park, of the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul. “The strong words he uses to censure the officials show just how desperately he’s trying to gather public support.”
Choe Ryong Hae, director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army, was assigned to spruce up the park, KCNA reported. Choe is the son of a revolutionary who fought against Japanese colonial forces alongside Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and grandfather of the current leader.
Kim’s comments that the funfair’s appearance is “an issue concerning ideological viewpoint” doesn’t reflect a departure from the regime’s socialist philosophy, Park said.
“His quote strikes more at bureaucracy than ideology,” he said.
Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said Kim’s comments are intended more to convey warmth to his people than to scold officials. The comments deviate from Kim’s father and grandfather and show how circumstances for the new leader have changed, Koh said.
“Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung have never publicly shown such detailed interest in weeds or chipping paint because they never needed to justify themselves to the people like that,” he said.
The trip to the fun park came a day after Kim Jong Un issued a statement on the need to “give a face-lift to the land of the country to suit a thriving socialist nation,” according to KCNA.
The North Korean economy is one-fortieth the size of South Korea’s, leaving the government dependent on handouts from China, its biggest ally.
The North’s isolation has deepened since the United Nations expanded sanctions and the U.S. scrapped a food aid deal after Kim’s government defied global condemnation and launched a rocket that disintegrated within minutes. The failure prompted speculation the regime will detonate a nuclear device to regain face.
North Korea remains technically at war with South Korea since the 1950-53 conflict ended without a formal peace treaty. The North’s bellicose rhetoric against its southern neighbor has heightened since the botched rocket test, last month threatening to turn South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and his administration “to ashes in three or four minutes.”
South Korea will file a complaint to international organizations against North Korea for jamming its commercial planes and ships’ global positioning systems, the Ministry of Land Transport and Maritime Affairs said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.