Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported Wednesday that geopolitical experts are trying to guess the meaning of tears shed by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in a video the newspaper claims was shown to local party leaders.
Kim purportedly wept because he was frustrated with the slow pace of economic reforms in his country.
If the tears were sincere, they would indicate a certain degree of confusion on Kim’s part about how both “communism” and “dictatorship” work. If he wants fast-paced economic reform, he should try something other than communism. Perhaps as a baby step, he might consider socialism, where the leadership is happy but everybody else weeps over the slow pace of economic reforms.
Asahi Shimbun sees the video as an effort by North Korea’s propaganda machine to rebrand the leadership and guilt-trip local party leaders into working harder because they are letting the young despot down and breaking his heart:
According to a defector to South Korea who once served North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, this different and rarely seen side of Kim Jong Un featured in a documentary to educate party officials who lead the lowest rungs of the leadership apparatus or state-run enterprises.
The video shows Kim Jong Un standing on an unspecified stretch of coastline gazing toward the horizon as tears trickle down his cheek.
A narrator explains that the North Korean leader is distraught over his inability to radically overhaul the economy to make the reclusive country a vibrant power.
The defector learned about the video from a contact who remains in North Korea.
According to the defector, the video surfaced from around April and was shown to those in high-ranking positions at local branches of the Workers’ Party or state-run companies.
Asahi Shimbun did not publish the video.
The defector also suggested the video could be Kim’s way of preparing party leadership for the outcome of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump by laying the groundwork for Kim to make significant policy changes – especially the kind of changes that could open North Korea’s economy to the Western world via South Korea – without looking as if he was strongarmed into making concessions by the Americans. That will truly be a tough sell, given that North Korea’s demented “Juche” ideology strongly emphasizes national independence and self-reliance.
“The video may be intended to prepare the nation for the day that will mark a sea change in the country’s fundamental outlook and way of dealing with the rest of the world,” Asahi Shimbun speculated.
North Korea is no stranger to using tears in state propaganda. Business Insider explained in January that Kim is always surrounded by weepy-eyed citizens in publicity photos because members of the ruling family are presented as demigods, their very presence powerful enough to move loyal North Koreans to tears.
Also, knowing that such emotional displays are expected of them, North Koreans instinctively try to outdo each other with operatic displays of grief and joy to curry favor with the regime, especially during events like the funeral for Kim’s father Kim Jong-il in 2011. Nobody wants to be seen as less than profoundly moved at a moment like that.
A recent BBC profile of Kim Jong-un speculated that he might actually be more emotional and insecure than his father and grandfather were, although he also remains a brutal tyrant willing to blow his uncle to bloody shreds and murder his half-brother with nerve agents if that’s what it takes to maintain power.
The article includes some speculation that Kim broke under the stress of his weird upbringing, the constant pressure to become the steely-eyed heir to his father’s throne, the brutal purges necessary to keep him in power after Kim Jong-il died, and endless paranoia over coup attempts.
Ironically, the BBC notes that Kim’s murdered brother Kim Jong-nam was removed from the line of succession and ultimately exiled from North Korea because he was frustrated with the slow pace of economic reforms, just as Kim Jong-un is now alleged to be. Kim Jong-nam tried to convince Kim Jong-il to address the problem by importing some Chinese economic ideas, which is exactly the course Beijing wants Kim Jong-un to take now.