North Korea on Tuesday marked the second anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong-il with a memorial ceremony in Pyongyang where present leader Kim Jong-un paid his respects in front of the embalmed corpse of his late father.
Kim Kyong-hui, Kim's aunt and widow of executed eminence grise Jang Song-taek, did not show up at the ceremony. Instead, military Politburo chief Choe Ryong-hae and other key officials flanked the North Korean leader, offering a picture of who is now in power.
Most of the North's top officials, including Jang and Army chief Ri Yong-ho, who once stood next to Kim when he inherited the throne, have either been executed or fired. The changes in the line-up of officials on the dais at the memorial symbolize Kim's bloody two-year reign.
Kim, who inherited nuclear weapons, 1.2 million troops and 2.3 million North Koreans living in virtual servitude from his father, has spent the last two years of his rule pursuing policy objectives that stunned the international community. As a result, he had to resort to a reign of fear typified by public executions in order to keep discontented North Koreans in check.
Over the last two years, Kim has been busy applying what he learned at boarding school in Switzerland to his impoverished country. He ordered officials to cover the barren country with grass to make it look more like the luscious Swiss landscape and build water parks modeled on those he saw in the affluent European nation.
He even ordered the construction of parking spaces in all houses in order to prepare for the dawning age of automobiles in the North.
North Koreans may be famous for their blind loyalty to their leader, but even they must have scratched their heads at these ludicrous schemes. No wonder Kim had to turn to public executions and other fear tactics to maintain his grip on power.
After he assumed the throne, Kim proclaimed a two-track development strategy for his nation focusing on bolstering the North's nuclear weapons and its moribund economy. But it is a delusional plan that can never be realized, not because the regime is under international sanctions but because it constantly acts against its own strategy.
While his people starved, Kim emptied the North's coffers by building equestrian parks, a ski resort and ice skating and roller skating rinks. He also built a rash of monuments to his grandfather and nation founder Kim Il-sung as well as his father.
Yet over the last two years, less than 10 km of new roads have been built in the North. While designating four special economic zones and 14 new development zones, Kim pursued a contradictory policy of becoming more suspicious of foreign investment than his father. The only special economic zone that managed to attract some foreign interest was Rajin-Sonbong.
Pyongyang's relationship with Beijing deteriorated during Kim's two years at the helm. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said recently that North Korea "shot itself in the foot" by launching provocations.
With pro-Beijing officials like Jang out of the picture, there is no telling whether Kim will ever make the trip to China. He has met no other world leaders so far and embarrassed himself by refusing to meet the president of Mongolia, an ally, who had traveled to Pyongyang for a summit but seized the opportunity to sing the praises of freedom to an audience of students.
Kim has voluntarily driven his country further into isolation.
Continuously shaking up the military, which remains his sole support base, and appointing confidants to key posts, Kim has changed the top three military posts three times over the last two years, which can only stir up confusion and discord among the troops. Even the Orwellian military structure of the North will not be enough to prevent more generals from becoming disgruntled.
The unpredictable nature of the young North Korean leader, with his peculiar and eccentric decisions, is a warning that anything can happen in the weeks and months ahead.