Brainwashed Youth of North Korea

28 08 2015

NK children in PY subway(, AUGUST 25, 2015) If there’s one thing you wouldn’t expect Gen-Y to do, it’s rise up in support of a “sacred war” and pledge their “faith and will to annihilate the enemies”. One million North Korean millenials have vowed to defend their country as tensions with the South boil over, at least according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. We’re used to antagonistic rhetoric and displays of strength from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but the strangest aspect of the latest confrontation is the visible enthusiasm of the country’s teens.

This positivity abounded in the capital, Pyongyang, yesterday, with truckloads of young soldiers singing martial songs driving around the city and large crowds materialising for impromptu rehearsals of activities planned for the ruling Workers Party’s 70th anniversary in October. By evening, people had gathered around televisions in public places — not to learn the outcome of crisis talks with the South, but to watch the debut of Boy General, a popular cartoon revamped for the first time in five years at the order of Kim Jong-un. It may seem like unusual teenage behaviour, but experts say it’s no surprise. It’s what they’ve been trained for since birth.

Citizens in North Korea live in a bubble sealed off from the rest of the world, where they have no choice but to adhere to the status quo. They are expected to show the unerring devotion to their leader that was demonstrated when Kim Jong-il’s subjects took to the streets wailing and tearing their hair after his death, in scenes that baffled the world. Young people growing up under the totalitarian regime have little freedom of movement, means of communication or economic independence. Foreign film and literature are banned and they are taught a revised version of history in school, learning songs of worship that praise the ruling Kim family.

“The young generation don’t know much about life outside,” Dr Leonid Petrov from ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific told “They’re curious about what’s going on but constantly brainwashed that the world is hostile.”
Kim Jong-un has made a great show of being a progressive young leader, introducing new freedoms including letting people eat fast food, allowing them to own mobile phones and permitting women to wear pants and jewellery and ride bicycles. But the regime continues to exercise control over these changes.

“Life in North Korea is pretty artificial,” said Dr Petrov. “There’s access to fashionable clothes in Pyongyang, where people can see, but in rural areas, even if you have a mobile phone there’s no electricity, or access to the web. People eat a little better now but life is pretty difficult.” For most young people, there’s little time to think about politics before they begin their mandatory service in the Korean People’s Army at 17. It can last as long as a decade for men, while women serve for around seven years.

With young people not leaving the military until their mid-20s, many commentators see the slightly older generation of “in-betweeners” as the state’s best hope for rebellion. Middle-aged people, known as jangmadang, have little interest in a revolution after surviving the Great Famine of the 1990s, focusing on becoming pioneers in a more capitalist market, explains Professor Kim Sung-kyung, from the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, South Korea.

The youngest members of society are increasingly influenced by trends from the outside world, she told the NK News, such as fashionable clothes and eating pizza — but these advances are “superficial” and carefully managed by the government.
Prof Sung-kyung says the real subversion comes from those in their late 20s taking the opportunity to “punch holes in the regime in their everyday lives” through “secretive experiences they can share each other, without being caught by the government”. As young people start to share ideas, smuggling videos and USBs in from South Korea, there is an opportunity for freedom: which is exactly what the state is so working hard to suppress.

It’s when citizens dissent that the harshest side of Kim Jong-un’s dictatorship is revealed. Park Ji-hyun left North Korea with Chinese traffickers during the famine, forced to leave her dying father behind. After six years, she was reported to the authorities and sent back. Classified as a defector, she was sent to a labour camp and worked to the bone, clearing mountainsides with her bare hands. “You could say the whole of North Korea is one big prison,” she told Amnesty International.

Eventually she was discharged with tetanus in her leg and, homeless and sick, managed to make a second escape. Her story shows how hard it really is. It’s estimated that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans, including young children, are enslaved in prison camps, and arbitrary arrests and public executions are commonplace, according to Human Rights Watch. The organisation says it’s this, along with the lack of political opposition, independent labour unions, free media or civil society that constitute the real challenge to youth empowerment.

“It’s very easy to manipulate people when they’re locked in a country without information,” said Dr Petrov. “They blame the outside world’s blockades for lack of food and so on. “North Korea has been mobilising people since the Korean War in the 1950s. Creating a crisis is part of the game. It’s a country frozen in time and needs mobilsation for something to change. People are prepared to go to extreme lengths.”

When we hear stories about defectors or progressive material slipping into this repressive society, it’s tempting to think it’s only a matter of time until the regime is overthrown. The young people who swore allegiance this weekend somewhat dispel that notion. Propaganda is key. Defector Jang Jin-sung, formerly one of Kim Jong-il’s poets, said he fully believed the rhetoric he helped to spread. That was, until he obtained special permission to visit to his hometown and saw corpses piled on the pavement, realising for the first time that the famine rumours were true.

The propaganda is psychological and emotional, he told The Guardian. People are not willing to risk the lives of their families by speaking out, and they are so isolated they have “no concept of basic human rights” anyway. Jang himself had to flee execution. “If anyone thinks North Korea is opening up, they are completely mistaken,” he said. While the state recently started allowing some tourism, such industries are controlled by the elite. “If there was any hint of real change,” added Jang, “ … the whole thing would collapse.”

The current atmosphere illustrates that. The stand-off began with explosion of landmines south of the heavily fortified border, which Seoul said had been planted by the North. The South responded by blasting a barrage of world news, pop music and criticism of Kim Jong-un’s oppressive government from loudspeakers along the border. The North denied involvement in the mines and demanded it cease this “psychological warfare” or face attack.

By Saturday, the DPRK had mobilised more than 70 submarines and undersea vehicles, according to Seoul’s Defence Ministry, and artillery fire has been exchanged. It’s unclear what will come of the talks. Analysts in Seoul say the North fears the broadcasts could demoralise its frontline troops and inspire them to defect. This forceful response shows it knows only too well the power of propaganda, and is determined not to let its young people hear it.

Isolated Kim Relies on Old North Korea Tensions Playbook

28 08 2015

One Korea_One enormous challenge (By Sam Kim and David Tweed, Bloomberg News, August 25, 2015) SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s military standoff against South Korea, with his threats to annihilate the government in Seoul, was not just about the loudspeakers blasting propaganda and K-pop tunes over the demilitarized zone.

Rather, the events that took tensions on the peninsula to their highest level since the aftermath of North Korea’s nuclear test in early 2013 reflected Kim’s efforts to control how ties between countries in North Asia are evolving.

The young dictator, who came to power in late 2011, is looking isolated. Kim’s nuclear ambitions and his unwillingness to take guidance from Beijing have irritated China and strained ties with Pyongyang’s traditional ally. South Korean President Park Geun-hye enjoys a rapport with President Xi Jinping and is inching toward improved ties with Japan.

Faced with a dilapidated economy and drought at home, and potentially pressured by senior officers in his military to show some mettle, Kim resorted to an old North Korean playbook — pick a fight to force concessions from South Korea on trade and aid. It’s also a warning to Park against taking North Korea lightly in her dealings with China, Japan and the United States, all of whom have urged Kim to abandon his nuclear weapons program.

“This is more than a loudspeaker issue,” said Zhang Baohui, director of the Center for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. “In the end this could be Kim’s outreach strategy. Maybe they think the South hasn’t been responding enough, so provoked a crisis to get to this stage.”

The stakes are high for Kim. He has a series of upcoming anniversaries where he must prove he’s worthy of commanding North Korea’s 1.2 million troops. Economic woes facing his 24 million people are unlikely to ease soon, while North Korea’s increasingly porous border with China means ordinary people have greater access to electronics and news of life outside the reclusive country.

In the end, both leaders gave some ground after days of high-level talks among negotiators at a border village — and both can probably claim a victory. The regime in Pyongyang agreed to lift its “semi-state of war” and expressed regret over landmine blasts that maimed two South Korean soldiers, while Seoul said it’d stop the propaganda broadcasts.

Risks remain, and Kim faces the challenge of a more strident Park in the face of any further provocations.

“The question is will the dialog stick? That will be harder because there is going to be some kind of crisis that tests this in relative short order,” said John Delury, a political science professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, citing the potential for skirmishes on the maritime border or over the demarcation line.

Since Park’s government said last week it traded fire with North Korea across the demilitarized zone, her approval rating has risen. Even as the tensions roiled South Korea’s financial markets she said Monday she would not stop pressuring Kim.

“The broadcasts play to particular parts of her support base, particularly the Christian right and the nationalist right,” said Tessa Morris-Suzuki, a professor of Asian affairs at the Australian National University in Canberra, of the South Korean leader who passes the half-way mark of her five-year tenure on Tuesday.

On the same day Kim marks the day of “Songun,” a military-first philosophy chartered by his late father Kim Jong Il. In less than two months he’ll celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party as he seeks to promote himself as a shrewd politician and tough military tactician.

“This is a very important commemorative year for Kim Jong Un,” Lee Sung-yoon, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University, said by email. “The young Kim has a compelling need to mark it with a bang, as he did in 2012 on the 100th anniversary of his grandfather’s birthday, when North Korea was miraculously to become a powerful and prosperous country.”

Kim can’t afford to look weak. Since taking power he’s conducted a series of purges to root out potential threats.

“His spate of high-level executions shows a high degree of frustration that his policies are not being implemented to his satisfaction,” Patrick Cronin, senior adviser for the Asia- Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, said in an email.

The country is suffering chronic food shortages. North Korea said earlier this year it had been in the worst drought in a hundred years and the United Nations said in June that was worsening food-security concerns in the country.

“They’re facing a poor harvest, so this could be a way to divert people’s attention to patriotism and jingoism that wouldn’t be necessary had there been plentiful crops,” said Leonid Petrov, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University in Canberra. “Kim knows he cannot offer much to his population other than superficial window dressing. He has to use the same methods his father and grandfather did.”

Security Implications of Kim Jong Un’s Leadership Consolidation for Korea and Beyond

1 12 2014

LP interview with AIIA ACT_2014.05.05The public lecture, “Security Implications of Kim Jong Un’s Leadership Consolidation for Korea and Beyond”, was given at Australian Institute of International Affairs in Canberra on 05 May 2014.

Here the short interview with Dr. Leonid Petrov before the lecture.

Kim Yo-Jong is the latest family member rising to power in North Korea

1 12 2014

Kim Yo-Jong( November 29, 2014) THERE’s a new Kim climbing the ranks in North Korea — and this time, it’s a woman. Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, Kim Yo-Jong, has been promoted to what is effectively a second-in-command position to the country’s notorious dictator. She has been increasingly visible in recent years, and now the ambitious young woman is firmly situated in the highest echelons of the ruling Workers’ Party. Yesterday, the North’s official KCNA news agency listed her as a “vice department director” in the central committee.

Believed to be 26 years old, Kim Yo-Jong first made her first public appearance in 2011 at the funeral of her father and longtime ruler Kim Jong-Il. When Kim Jong-un was sick recently, she is thought to have been acting as leader behind the scenes, according to Dr Leonid Petrov, from the ANU School of History and Culture.

“She is powerful and ambitious,” Dr Petrov told “She’s participated in family gatherings, ordering food and drink for guests before the party starts. “Last month, when Kim Jong-un disappeared from view to undergo medical treatment, there were reports that she was acting as leader.”

Now the Supreme Leader has a problem. He is considered young, at just 31 years old, and “needs to uplift his image”, Dr Leonid explains. He has already changed his hairstyle and started using a walking stick to make himself appear older to generate more respect. His health is poor — he has diabetes and high blood pressure — and he isn’t sure who he can trust.

Enter Kim Yo-Jong. As a family member, she will not betray him. She will show loyalty and will not try to take power while he is alive. But should he die, whether of natural causes or at the hands of his many enemies, she could continue the reign of the ruling family.

“She has a thirst for power,” said Dr Leonid. She has begun accompanying her brother to political events and on his “field guidance trips”.

Analysts suggest she is either in the powerful organisational department handling personnel changes or a propaganda unit. Kim Jong Il was also seen as relying on his own sister during his 17-year rule.

While women, especially young ones, would not normally come to power in Korea, things are changing, culturally and politically.

South Korea now has a female president, which no one would have expected in the past, who again was the daughter of a leader. North Korean observers have speculated that Kim Yo-Jong is being groomed to playing a similar leadership supporting role to her powerful aunt, Kim Kyong-Hui.

Kim Jong-un has removed many members of the old guard, with Kim Kyong-Hui, 68, largely disappearing from public view after her husband Jang Song-Thaek was executed last December for charges including treason.

Just as Kim Jong-un entered the public eye in 2009, so Kim Yo-Jong has taken a central role. She is a safety precaution for her brother, and she could become the perfect dictator to carry on the dynasty.

Brisbane-based geologist Louis Schurmann linked to huge North Korea rare earths mining project

7 11 2014

Louis Schurmann(By Mark Willacy, ABC, 6 Aug 2014) A leading Asian human rights activist has urged the Federal Government to investigate a Queensland-based resources company and a prominent Australian geologist over mining deals with North Korea that he believes may breach United Nations sanctions.

One of the deals involves the mining of a potential deposit of 216 million tonnes of rare earths, which are minerals used in everyday items including smartphones, flatscreen televisions and computers, but also essential for sophisticated weapons such as guided missiles.

The deposit, discovered at Jongju, about 150 kilometres north-west of the North Korean capital Pyongyang, is reportedly one of the world’s largest.

It could also provide a significant boost to the rogue state’s economy.

Late last year, a British Virgin Islands-based private equity firm, SRE Minerals, signed a joint venture with the regime-run Korea Natural Resources Trading Corporation to develop the site for the next 25 years.

The project’s lead scientist and director of operators is Dr Louis Schurmann, an experienced Brisbane-based geologist and fellow of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

Tokyo-based Human Rights in Asia director Ken Kato has told the ABC that he wants the joint venture project investigated.

“Rare earths are an indispensable material for guided missiles,” he said.

“North Korea’s mining resources are a major source of revenue for its nuclear and missile programs.”

Activist who questioned deal labelled ‘doomsday prophet’ in email

UN Security Council resolution 2094, passed in response to the regime’s 2013 nuclear weapons test, bans the transfer of any financial or other assets, or resources “that could contribute to the DPRK’s [North Korea’s] nuclear or ballistic missile programs”.

The question remains whether this could in any way apply to rare earths mined in North Korea.

The ABC has obtained correspondence between Mr Kato and Dr Schurmann, in which the activist warns the geologist that the project could be in violation of resolution 2094.

The exploration geologist dismissed the concerns in a reply email.

“Have you ever thought that doomsday prophets like your [sic] cause most of the problems?? What we are doing is making a difference … a POSITIVE one … try it,” Dr Schurmann wrote.

Mr Kato has referred Dr Schurmann to the Sanctions Section of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, urging an investigation.

The Sanctions Section replied: “Australia takes its sanctions obligations … very seriously and we will provide due consideration to the matters you have raised.”

When Lateline asked the department whether Australians or Australian companies involved in the Jongju mining project were in breach of sanctions, it refused to comment, or to confirm if an investigation was underway.

Rare earths could ‘change the whole game’ for North Korea

North Korea expert Leonid Petrov, from the Australian National University, warned that if the rare earths deposit was as big as being touted, it would provide a huge boost to the country’s economy.

Dr Petrov said such an injection of hard currency into the impoverished and brutal regime would strengthen its chances of survival.

“If they really do have substantial amounts of rare earths in North Korea it can actually change the whole game of survival for North Korea,” he said.

“The regime does not need to reform [with such an injection].”

Mr Schurmann is not the only Australian link to the Jongju rare earths project.

Brisbane-based Salva Resources assessed the deposit for the proponents, and found it to be a considerable and economically viable prospect.

At the time of the company’s involvement, Salva Resources was owned by Brisbane mining executives Lachlan Broadfoot and Grant Moyle.

Last year, in a deal that media reports said had netted them millions of dollars, they sold the company to US engineering group HDR.

Lateline contacted the new company, HDR Salva, seeking comment about the Jongju assessment and an interview with Mr Broadfoot, who works at the merged company.

In a statement, HDR Salva said: “Salva Resources was contracted to do a geological review of historical data. The nature of this work was thus not relevant to your other comments.”

Those “other comments” relate to the ABC’s queries about UN sanctions against North Korea.

Under Security Council Resolution 1718, to which Australia is bound, it is “an offence to engage in conduct which assists, or results in, the sale, supply or transfer of specified goods on the luxury goods list to [North Korea]”.

Number 22 on the prohibited list is “precious metals”, an appellation sometimes given to rare earths.

It is unclear whether resolution 1718 applies to materials mined inside North Korea.

Gold and silver also appear on the list.

Lateline has discovered that Dr Schurmann’s mining interests in North Korea are not just confined to rare earth minerals.

Dr Schurmann is a director of Australian Stock Exchange-listed EHG Corporation, which last year announced it had acquired a sub-licence “to mine, process, extract and sell all minerals from the North Hwanghae province” in the closed communist state.

Those minerals would include gold, silver, lead and copper.

Dealing with North Korea ‘controversial business’

ANU’s Dr Petrov said dealing with North Korea was fraught with dangers.

“The money that goes to North Korea can be used by the regime to suppress its own people or to beef up its nuclear or missile capabilities. So doing business with North Korea is controversial business.

“It’s highly advised if you don’t want to end up on the list of sanctioned people and banned from doing business with other countries, you’d better check the list and check what is prohibited and what it allowed.”

Lateline emailed Dr Schurmann, sent him a Facebook message, called his home phone number, and visited his Brisbane home seeking comment. The program finally made contact. But the geologist told the ABC he has been advised by his lawyers not to comment at this stage.

As well as potential sanctions breaches, questions remain about who Dr Schurmann and his colleagues are dealing with in Pyongyang.

Human rights activist Mr Kato said most of Pyongyang’s biggest money making ventures were run by a secret unit of the regime called “Office 39”.

Mr Kato has told the ABC that while Office 39’s agents were sometimes involved in legitimate ventures, they were also responsible for counterfeiting, drug smuggling and weapons trafficking, he said.

“Office 39 controls most of the mining in North Korea. It’s like a big exclusive conglomerate for the Kim family,” said Mr Kato.

“The US Treasury Department says Office 39 provides capital to North Korea’s leaders and it is subject to sanctions in Australia, the US, and Europe.”

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Kim Jong Un’s absence: coup or cooped up?

13 10 2014

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????(By Belinda Cranston, ANU, 10 OCT 2014) Why hasn’t Kim Jong Un been seen for 37 days? All sorts of conspiracy theories abound. Are ankle problems the reason the North Korean leader is lying low, as reported by the hermit kingdom’s officials? Or is something more sinister at stake, like a coup?

It was hoped that all would be revealed on Friday, when celebrations marking the 69th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s ruling party begin in Pyongyang.

The occasion would normally see the supreme leader on the podium of Kim Il-Sung Square, greeting a parade of workers and peasants passing by. But the North Korean leader has apparently missed this key political event.

Speaking before the event, North Korea expert Dr Leonid Petrov, from the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, said, “it will probably look more suspicious than ever if he doesn’t appear.”

Footage of Kim in North Korean media a couple of months ago showed the North Korean dictator limping.

At an occasion to mark the 61st anniversary of the end of the Korean War, on 27 July, he was unusually subdued, fuelling rumours he had suffered a stroke.

“If he did survive a minor stroke, maybe his left side is a bit affected by that,” Petrov said.

Kim is also said to have suffered diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

When he failed to show on 9 September for National Day commemorations, the rumour mill went into overdrive.

If an injury required a major operation, it was possible Kim was recovering in a wheel chair, a look he would not want to sport for fear of being perceived as weak, Petrov suggested.

It is also possible Kim is afraid of assassination. Late last year he reportedly arranged for his uncle’s execution, because he feared he was disloyal to the North Korean regime.

This year’s release of the American film, The Interview, a comedy about journalists on an undercover mission to assassinate Kim, has further fuelled rumours Kim fears for his life.

Petrov isn’t convinced, noting Kim’s many public appearances in the first part of 2014.

In early January, visiting former-US basketball star Dennis Rodman sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to Kim, publicly cementing the unusual friendship between the two.

But the North Korean leader didn’t show during Rodman’s third visit to North Korea.

“That shows that he is getting a bit cautious about his meetings and public appearances,” Petrov added.

Without Kim or his family in power, the North Korean regime would probably struggle.

“The system would need to find some sort of figure head to replace him,” Petrov said.

His sister Kim Yo-jong is rumoured to be now running the show, but Petrov isn’t convinced she is, given North Korea’s perception of women.

“Women are not supposed to occupy the central position in power politics,” he said.

What of other rumours, like Kim being under house arrest or even dead?

Until Kim makes an appearance soon, Petrov believes the most likely scenario is that the North Korean dictator is unwell.

“Maybe incapacitated. Yes, it is possible, he may have had a stroke and is in bad shape.”

This article is from the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific

Kim Jong Un, out of sight for 37 days, is a no-show at ceremony

11 10 2014

North Koreans on 10.10.2014 (By STEVEN BOROWIEC, Seoul, 10 October 2014) Speculation over the health and whereabouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un grew Friday after he apparently did not attend ceremonies marking an important national holiday. The young head of the reclusive country has not appeared in public since he was seen at a concert Sept. 3.

Oct. 10 is the anniversary of the ruling North Korean Workers’ Party, and in his first two years in power, Kim marked the occasion by making midnight visits to the mausoleum in the capital, Pyongyang, where the bodies of his father and grandfather, both former leaders, are kept in state.

But in its reports on the holiday, the state-run Korean Central News Agency did not make any mention of Kim, believed to be 31, participating in events. He also missed a celebration for Foundation Day on Sept. 9, another important holiday on the North Korean calendar.

“Today was a crucial day for him to return. More and more questions are mounting and his absence inevitably leads to uncertainty about who’s leading the country,” said Leonid Petrov, a researcher in Korean studies at Australian National University.

Kim is overweight and has become noticeably heavier since he came to power in December 2011. He is a smoker and reputedly has tastes for liquor and high-calorie food.

Earlier this year, he was filmed walking with a noticeable limp at a state function, and in a rare admission of vulnerability, North Korea’s official media reported in late September that he was struggling with unspecified physical “discomfort.”

On Friday, an unnamed source told Reuters that a leg injury was keeping Kim out of public view. The source said Kim pulled a tendon after joining a military drill he had been inspecting.

On Oct. 4, a delegation of senior North Korean figures, believed to be the most powerful officials in the country after Kim, made an unexpected visit to South Korea to attend the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. They borrowed Kim’s plane for the trip, and Kim’s regards were reportedly conveyed to South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Analysts have said that in North Korea’s totalitarian system, such a trip could not have gone ahead without the top leader’s approval.

Though Kim is young and far less experienced than the men of his father’s generation who make up the government’s top ranks, he has the unmatchable legitimacy of being part of the ruling Kim bloodline as grandson to founding leader Kim Il Sung.

His uncle by marriage, Jang Song-thaek, was widely considered North Korea’s second most powerful figure and a possible threat to Kim’s control, until Jang was suddenly purged and executed last year. Jang’s ouster was carried out in an unusually visible manner, with him being handcuffed and dragged out of a large meeting, possibly as an implicit warning to anyone else in North Korea with ambitions of building power to challenge Kim’s control of the country.

Though Kim’s prolonged absence has spurred rumors of a power struggle in Pyongyang, there is no clear sign that a serious challenge to his rule has emerged. On Friday, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, its body for relations with the North, said in a briefing that, according to the South Korean government’s intelligence, Kim’s rule has not been disrupted.

“There’s no sign of any political upheaval in Pyongyang. Just the opposite, all the evidence shows that things are going along normally,” said John Delury, a North Korea watcher at Yonsei University in Seoul.

Still, the extended absence is out of character for Kim, who has been a highly visible leader whose moves are usually closely reported in the North Korean state media. “This is very unusual for Kim Jong Un, as he’s been this hyperactive young leader who tries to show that he’s involved in everything that’s going on,” said Adam Cathcart, a lecturer of East Asian history at the University of Leeds.

Though Kim’s absence is unusual for him, it’s not unheard of in the history of North Korea’s ruling dynasty. His father, Kim Jong Il, who died in late 2011, regularly did not appear in public for months at a time, often due to his deteriorating health.

Also Friday, South Korea’s military announced that North Korea fired machine guns at activists in South Korea who were releasing balloons filled with propaganda leaflets over the border.

A source in the South Korean military, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity, said no casualties or damage occurred, and that the South did not return fire but fired warning shots and broadcast a message over loudspeakers imploring the North to refrain from firing.

The balloons are usually filled with leaflets critical of the North Korean government, as well as socks and chocolate snacks. Pyongyang routinely objects to such criticism, and has recently called on the South Korean government to take action to prevent the activists, often North Korean refugees, from sending the balloons. Seoul has responded that it cannot prevent the release of the leaflets because they represent free speech.


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