Kim Jong Un and his wife attended a Lunar New Year’s Day performance in Pyongyang, where he was greeted with loud applause from audience members and performers who applauded him for ushering in a “new era” of national strength, according to official media.
Following a barrage of missile launches in January, the North’s state media has emphasized Kim’s autocratic rule, which some analysts believe is an attempt to put pressure on Washington over the stalemate nuclear talks after two years of widespread border restrictions and economic collapse.
The Biden administration has requested a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday to examine North Korea’s recent launch of an intermediate-range missile capable of reaching Guam, a crucial US military base in the Pacific. The test on Sunday marked the return of significant weapons testing, which Kim had put on hold in 2018 while pursuing dialogue with then-US President Donald Trump.
Since the failure of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a big lifting of severe US-led sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear weapons, talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stopped.
Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were greeted with “stormy shouts” as they arrived at Pyongyang’s huge Mansudae Art Theater for Tuesday’s concert, according to the Korean Central News Agency. The crowd complimented Kim “ushering in a new world and a new era on our land, when the people’s goals, happiness, and yearning to establish a powerful country are thoroughly turned into reality,” according to KCNA.
According to the article, artists performed songs and dances that reflected the North Korean people’s “single-minded togetherness” and determination to building a communist society “to be admired by the world.”
In a new program extolling his supposed successes in 2021, including anti-virus campaigns, construction projects, and weapons development, North Korean TV depicted Kim racing through a woodland on a white horse, a symbol linked with his family’s dynastic dominance over the nation.
Kim was seen walking carefully at a wet building site, significantly thinner than in previous months, while a narrator stated he displayed his “motherly side by totally committing his body to achieving people’s hopes.”
In October, South Korean intelligence officials told lawmakers that Kim has lost about 20 kilograms (44 pounds), but that he is healthy and is attempting to increase public support for him as he navigates the most difficult period of his presidency, exacerbated by economic hardships exacerbated by the pandemic.
Analysts believe Pyongyang’s increased nuclear tests, which coincided with attempts to enhance internal unity and tighten the government’s control on the economy, show a feeling of urgency among Pyongyang’s elite for outside assistance.
While tentatively resuming freight train traffic with China last month, Kim is also resurrecting his brinkmanship strategy to wrest concessions from the Biden administration, which has offered open-ended talks but has shown no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes concrete steps to abandon his nuclear weapons program.
The Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile was tested for the first time on Sunday, marking the North’s first long-range weapon since 2017, when it flew Hwasong-12s twice over Japan and three intercontinental ballistic missiles separately, demonstrating the capability to reach deep into the American homeland.
The launch happened only days after Kim summoned a conference of his governing party, during which officials threatened to lift the North’s 2018 moratorium on nuclear and longer-range missile testing, citing US hostility as a reason.
According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and condemned North Korea’s recent ballistic tests, which were in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and vowed trilateral cooperation with South Korea to deal with the North Korean threat.
Experts believe the North will put an end to its testing frenzy when the Beijing Winter Olympics begin this week out of respect for China, its most important ally and economic lifeline. However, after the Olympics conclude later this month, there are hopes that it will considerably increase the ante in armament demonstrations in order to attract the attention of the Biden administration, which has been concentrating more on addressing China and Russia over Ukraine’s war.