Tens of thousands of North Korean schoolchildren gathered Wednesday in Pyongyang to hear North Korean leader Kim Jong Un praise them in the second public speech since assuming power late last year, calling them “more precious than 100 million tons of gold and silver.”
His speech, reported by North Korean state media, reflected the more accessible style that Kim has demonstrated in public remarks and appearances. His father, Kim Jong Il, was heard by the North Korean public only once, shouting “Glory to the heroic Korean People's Army!”
Video from the Wednesday rally showed children sobbing as the new leader addressed them. “By mingling with kids, Kim Jong Un is showing that he is a leader who can interact with the public,” South Korean political scientist Ahn Chan-li told the Associated Press.
The new leader first spoke publicly in April during celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, repeating the familiar slogan “military first.”
Since then, Kim has reportedly visited schools, the zoo, and even a Pyongyang funfair, which he criticized for being in disrepair. State media trumpeted the public rebuke last month as a patriotic act.
“An In Ae, a breeder at the Central Zoo, said she was deeply touched by him personally plucking up weeds grown between pavement blocks,” the Korean Central News Agency reported.
At a trip to a kindergarten, Kim reportedly "proposed to provide a circular lawn to children, saying that if the playground is totally paved, children may get hurt while being engrossed in playing," the state news outlet reported.
Karin Lee, executive director of the nonprofit National Committee on North Korea, said after the young leader took over, she was struck to see Kim touching people, his arm slung around someone else in a photograph.
"You didn't see Kim Jong Il doing that," she said. "I think he might be looking to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who was incredibly charismatic. He's making himself accessible."
When Kim Jong Un rebuked the funfair, some South Korean analysts told Bloomberg News it was a sign that he was desperate to gather public support. But Lee warned that, less than six months after the death of his father was announced, it was still too early to parse what his stylings as a leader might mean.
"North Korea is the world's biggest Rorschach test," she said. "People who are looking for signs of insecurity will find insecurity. People who are looking for signs of strength will find strength."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Video: Kim Jong Un addresses more than 20,000 children, many of them tearful, in a stadium Wednesday in Pyongyang. Credit: The Telegraph