Two perplexities in Kim Jong-un’s reappearance

Tuesday 14th October, 2014
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In North Korea’s propaganda conduct, a photograph of Kim is not just a photograph. Publicized images of Kim in particular are the product of a scripted choreography process and consequent selection and vetting procedures. It is in this context that the most recently publicized photographs of Kim Jong-un are quite perplexing.

It is difficult to see these images as being scripted according to the traditional rulebook that applies to media depictions of the Supreme Leader. Within these principles, presentations should have shown a smiling Kim Jong-un exhibiting his divine presence at the anniversary of the Korean Worker’s Party on October 10.

Why did Kim Jong-un miss such a golden opportunity, and why did he instead appear for a photo shoot in a residential area — which could have been arranged at any other time of year?

On Oct 14, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA, DPRK news wire for outside audience) released images of Kim Jong-un’s first public appearance in 40 days. Kim was shown to be visiting the Uisong Scientists Residential District.  The release of this media was coordinated with the Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, so it doesn’t appear to have been rushed for prioritising an outside audience in the way coverage of Jang Song-thaek’s execution was.

It is likely that preparations for releasing the media had been simultaneously coordinated by Rodong Sinmun and Korean Central TV (KCTV, central state broadcaster), at least one day before the official release date, on October 13.

In North Korea, coverage of the Supreme Leader’s on-site guidance is never released on the same day. This is due to a standard security measure that protects the exposure of travel details until the journey has been completed. Thus Kim Jong-un would not have visited the Uisung Scientists Residential District later than October 11 or 12. Photographs from the visit would then have been selected, possibly on the day, via the vetting procedures of the Institute for Party Records, then passed through the Propaganda and Agitation Department and finally distributed to Rodong Sinmun, KCNA and KCTV.

In Kim Jong-il’s time, the camera crew that accompanied him during on-site guidance visits were not reporters that belonged to Rodong Sinmun or KCNA. For sake of convenience and adaptive agility, but above all for purposes of operational security, only cadres of Institute for Party Records designated as “First Class Camera Crew” were permitted to accompany Kim Jong-il on his tours with a camera. Their photographs could be delivered to the Propaganda and Agitation Department for media dissemination only after being concurrently vetted by the section chief and deputy director of a relevant department in the Institute for Party Records.

The photographs of Kim Jong-un released on October 14 shows him supported by a cane, but he is seen to be otherwise capable of movement. If Kim Jong-un were fit enough to make such a visit, why did he not make an appearance only one or two days earlier, for the important celebrations of the founding of the Worker’s Party on October 10?

During the 40 days of his absence, the “Supreme Dignity” of Kim Jong-un was damaged by a coterie of wild charges from the outside world ranging from speculations of mental illness, an overthrow, a coup d’etat, and even a claim that his sister Kim Yo-jong had nudged him aside. If there had been concern to remedy such damage surrounding the Supreme Dignity, his reappearance as the focal point and centre of the Party’s anniversary celebrations on October 10 would have made for a more magnificent and dignified statement than his on-site visit of a residential area.

Why did Kim Jong-un not take advantage of such a grand opportunity for redress?

By releasing a picture of Kim Jong-un with a cane, North Korea leaves open the suggestion that Kim Jong-un may continue to be absent from his public duties, until he properly recovers from his health problems. The reappearance photographs also leave questions: was the date of Kim Jong-un’s on-site guidance visit actually around October 11/12? If so, why did Kim Jong-un miss the Party anniversary celebrations that are arranged by the Party’s Organization and Guidance Department on October 10?

By Jang Jin-sung.
Read in Korean.
Translated by Haeryun Kang. Edited by Shirley Lee. 
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun

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