Pyongyang – North Korea marked the centenary of the death of its founder Kim Il-sung with a massive military parade in the center of Pyongyang. But it was his grandson, the new young leader of the country, Kim Jung-un, who got most of the attention.
He talked. That doesn’t sound like a big deal for a leader, but it is when you consider that his late father and former leader Kim Jung-il barely uttered a word in public.
“Most people alive today in North Korea,” Seoul-based Korea expert Peter Beck told me, “never heard him speak.”
It wasn’t the greatest performance, but for a 20-something thrust onto the world stage overnight it wasn’t bad. Except some of the things he said might not please everyone.
He did say he would work “responsibly and with patience” for the reunification of North Korea with South Korea.
“There is more nuance and more elaboration there than we’ve heard before,” North Korea analyst Daniel Pinkston noted.
But he also seemed to defend Pyongyang’s arsenal of as many as ten atomic bombs, declaring the “era of nuclear threats” from “Imperialist” countries (read the U.S.) is “forever over.”
He also underscored his father’s “Military First” policy of investing heavily in defense -- bad news for the struggling and hungry in the country.
As for this past week’s failed missile (or satellite) launch, one translator noted he did make a passing reference to it “What we trust is not modern weapons,” he said, “but our beloved soldiers and commanders.”
Seemingly undeterred, among the rockets rolled out, according to some locals, was one that had never been seen before. We noticed that it was big (needing a 16-wheel truck to carry it) and pretty thick.
One analyst suggested to me it could be a new intercontinental ballistic missile. But others weren’t so sure and thought it might be a dummy.
As for those “soldiers and commanders,” there were a lot of those there -- marching, goose-stepping, saluting, chanting and doing everything they’re supposed to, including cheering on their new leader.
In supporting roles, pom-pom and flower-waving cheering local residents in their thousands. We spoke to a few after it was all over and they stayed on-message as is usual for these things, proclaiming their allegiance to the regime.
As we left in one of the buses provided to the international press corps invited to cover this, I was taken by lines of young North Korean children, smiling and waving to us.
And had to only hope that the new young leader has their future in mind.