Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
The 100th anniversary (centenary) of the birth of Kim Il Sung was commemorated in Pyongyang on Sunday (15 April) with a massive ceremony and military parade, as well as an evening fireworks display. In a departure from his father’s public behavior and perhaps in homage to his grandfather, Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) delivered a speech from the parade reviewing stand in KIS Square. During the parade the country’s latest model intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM], which some ROK pyongyang watchers identify as the KN-08 was towed.
In a speech delivered at the event, DPRK leader Kim Jong Un lauded the historic contributions by Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong IL to the DPRK’s development, and offered the highest respect and honor to the two late leaders.
Noting that the DPRK is facing a momentous historic opportunity, Kim Jong Un called upon the whole nation to stick to the path blazed by his predecessors and strive to win new victories.
It is Kim Jong Un’s first public speech after he became first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), chairman of the WPK Central Military Commission and first chairman of the National Defence Commission.
Tens of thousands of people gathered at Kim Il Sung Square in central Pyongyang, and applauded and cheered throughout his speech.
A march-past of more than 30 phalanxes of the army, navy and air forces, workers and peasants, students and female soldiers was staged amid thunderous cheers from the crowds.
A wide array of military hardware, including tanks, shore-to-ship missiles, and ground-to-air missiles, rumbled past the podium.
Kim Jong Un smiled and saluted the soldiers and crowds throughout the parade and chatted occasionally with Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) of the DPRK.
Kim Jong Un’s lengthy speech — two days after North Korea launched a long-range rocket in defiance of international warnings — took North Koreans gathered at Kim Il Sung Square and before televisions across the country by surprise. His father, late leader Kim Jong Il, addressed the public only once during his lifetime.
Calm and measured, Kim Jong Un covered a wide range of topics, from foreign policy to the economy, as he spoke during choreographed festivities honoring the 100th birthday of his late grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.
The rocket unveiled Sunday, which appeared to have several stages, was similar to the one that broke into pieces over the Yellow Sea shortly after liftoff Friday, but was of a more overtly military design. While it’s not clear how powerful or significant this addition to the North Korean arsenal is — or whether it was a mock-up — it signaled that North Korea will continue to build up its military despite the failed launch.
Although that launch was a huge, costly embarrassment, Kim’s address Sunday was seen by analysts as an expression of confidence by the young leader meant to show that he is firmly in control.
Kim Jong Un’s words often mirrored what North Korea regularly says in its state media, but there was symbolism in the images of the new leader, who is believed to be in his late 20s, addressing the country on state TV and then watching — and often laughing and gesturing in relaxed conversation with senior officials — as a parade of North Korean military troops and hardware marched by.
Outside analysts have raised worries about how the new leader, who has been seen but not publicly heard since taking over after Kim Jong Il’s December death, would govern a country that is building a nuclear weapons program and has previously threatened Seoul and Washington with war.
The speech was a good “first impression for his people and for the world,” said Hajime Izumi, a North Korea expert at Japan’s Shizuoka University. “He demonstrated that he can speak in public fairly well, and at this stage that in itself — more than what he actually said — is important. I think we might be seeing him speak in public more often, and show a different style than his father.”
Kim emphasized in his speech the importance of strengthening North Korea’s defenses by placing the country’s “first, second and third” priorities on military might. However, he also made clear he is open to working with foreign countries that do not have hostile policies toward his nation, and said he would strive to reunify Korea.
“It’s a heartbreaking fact that our nation has been divided for more than 70 years,” he said. “I will make painstaking efforts toward reunification.”
Kim also stressed the importance of national unity, calling his country “Kim Il Sung’s Korea” rather than North Korea. In recent days, the square bearing his grandfather’s name has been redecorated, with the Marx and Lenin portraits that adorned key buildings taken down and replaced with long red banners vowing to defend the new leader “to the death.” At the front are portraits of the two late leaders, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.
“That suggests to me that they want to let the country, and the world, know that this is a ‘new’ country,” Han S. Park, a University of Georgia professor who works frequently with top U.S. and North Korean officials, after watching the events in Pyongyang. “In his speech today, he said ‘we have a second century of Kim Il Sung Korea.'”
The young leader also underlined his commitment to aggressively building the economy and improving the people’s daily lives, an approach backed up by a decision to promote two economists to key Workers’ Party posts earlier in the week.
Later that day, Kim Jong Un and members of the DPRK central leadership visited the Ku’msusan Memorial Palace where they visited Kim Il Sung’s preserved remains. KCNA reports:
Kim Jong Un, first secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, first chairman of the DPRK National Defence Commission and supreme commander of the Korean People’s Army, together with senior party, state and army officials visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and paid tribute to President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il on Sunday, the Day of the Sun.
Kim Jong Un entered the hall where the statues of the President and Kim Jong Il stand.
Laid before the statues was a floral basket in the joint name of the Central Committee of the WPK, the Central Military Commission of the WPK, the National Defence Commission of the DPRK and the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the Cabinet of the DPRK.
Kim Jong Un, together with senior party, state and army officials, paid humblest tribute to the statues.
Then he entered a hall where the President lies in state.
Together with senior party, state and army officials, he made bows to the President in humblest reverence.
Kim Jong Un then entered a hall where the portrait of a smiling Kim Jong Il is hung.
Kim Jong Un, together with senior party, state and army officials, paid humblest tribute to the portrait.
Accompanying him were Kim Yong Nam, Choe Yong Rim, Choe Ryong Hae, Ri Yong Ho, Kim Kyong Hui, Kim Jong Gak, Jang Song Thaek, Pak To Chun, Kim Yong Chun, Kim Kuk Thae, Kim Ki Nam, Choe Thae Bok, Yang Hyong Sop, Ri Yong Mu, Kang Sok Ju, Hyon Chol Hae, Kim Won Hong, Ri Myong Su, Kim Yang Gon, Kim Yong Il, Thae Jong Su, Kim Phyong Hae, Mun Kyong Dok, Ju Kyu Chang, Kwak Bom Gi, Kim Chang Sop, Ri Pyong Sam, Ro Tu Chol, Jo Yon Jun, who are senior party, state and army officials, officials of the Party central guidance body and those of the party, Cabinet and social organizations and commanding officers of the KPA.