New North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is staying well away from the impoverished country's economic affairs and concentrating on the military. Out of 35 public appearances Kim made this year, only one -- a visit to the building site of a folk village in Pyongyang on Jan. 11 -- had nothing to do with the military. But even that, according to a Unification Ministry official, "should in fact be classified as a military-related activity as the aim was to boost the morale of soldiers who'd been commandeered to work on the building site."
By contrast, Kim has made 22 visits to Army units and the like, suggesting that the military is the absolute priority as he seeks to consolidate his rule.
His father, former leader Kim Jong-il, paid a lot more attention to economic matters, however unsuccessfully. Out of 145 public activities Kim Jong-il carried out last year before he died, 61 were so-called on-the-spot guidance tours to businesses and other economic projects -- pictures of Kim senior looking blankly at vegetables or machinery made him something of an Internet phenomenon -- as against 39 military-related events.
A South Korean government official said, "There's a lot of circumstantial evidence that the younger Kim has abandoned economic issues. Notice that he didn't attend the ceremony marking the completion of Huichon Power Station in Jagang Province on Thursday last week" -- even though the power station had been widely publicized by the regime as a pillar of the impoverished nation's goal to become "a powerful and prosperous nation" this year.
Kim senior was very keen on the project, visiting the building site no fewer than eight times. But Kim Jong-un instead visited Naval Unit 155, which has the distinction of capturing an American naval destroyer, the USS Pueblo, a full 43 years ago. A South Korean intelligence official said Kim Jong-un seems to have delegated economic issues entirely to the Cabinet. In his place, Premier Choe Yong-rim has toured the factories and business projects.
Pundits speculate Kim Jong-un is steering clear of economic matters to avoid the blame for the country's signal failure to become powerful and prosperous. One North Korean defector who held a senior position in the North said, "Kim Jong-il carried out a purge of economic officials whenever he failed to achieve economic goals, and I expect Kim Jong-un is going to do the same."