Kim Jong Un’s made 17 reported public appearances in September 2013, with much of his public schedule focused on the DPRK economy. Kim Jong Un made 11 on-site visits to the construction or renovation of housing and public welfare facilities, a masonry supplier and a fishery. He conducted two military field inspections, both at KPA units stationed in the West (Yellow) Sea and attended two concerts, both of which were given by art squads of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces.
Kim attended only one national event in September–a military parade of the DPRK’s reserve military training units and demonstration by Pyongyang citizens to mark the 65th anniversary of the country’s foundation. Kim Jong Un also attended two sports competitions, which included him meeting with foreign dignitaries. 13 of his 17 reported public appearances occurred in Pyongyang or the surrounding areas.
Kim Jong Un’s public schedule during September appears to emphasize:
Construction in Economic Development
Ten of Kim Jong Un’s 11 economy-related events were visits were linked to the construction sector. Six of these appearances were to the development or renovation of sports or recreation facilities in Pyongyang. Of these six visits, two occurred at the construction of the Munsu Swimming Complex, which Kim Jong Un would like to see complex ahead of the 68th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party’s foundation in October 2013.
Two of Kim Jong Un’s 11 economy-related events were visits to housing construction for academics in Pyongyang. He visited the U’nha Scientists Street two days before it was opened to new residents and he visited the construction of new housing for faculty members of Kim Il Sung University.
Kim Jong Un also visited the ongoing construction of a dental hospital in Pyongyang.
Kim Jong Un’s visit to Aeguk Stone Factory, a supplier of stone building materials, is the tenth appearance which can be categorized as related to construction. Kim Jong Un only made one economic appearance that was not related to construction–a visit to a fishery.
The Sports Economy
Eight of Kim Jong Un’s 17 reported public appearances were related to sports and physical culture. This includes the six (6) visits he made to the construction of recreation and sports facilities in Pyongyang. It also includes his meeting and time spent with retired National Basketball Association player Dennis Rodman, during which they attended a game between two DPRK basketball teams, as well as Kim Jong Un’s attendance on September 15 at competitions of the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Junior and Senior Weightlifting Championship (an event of the International Weightlifting and Asian Weightlifting Federations held in Pyongyang). While attending the weightlifting competition, Kim Jong Un made a point of meeting with the Vice Chairman of the International Weightlifting Federation and leading officials of the Asian Weightlifting Federation.
Kim Jong Un’s public activities during September 2013 show that he continues to put sports and physical culture as a top policy priority. His focus on sports and sports-related construction enhances the political position of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, nearly a year after its establishment. According to a source in the leadership and external Pyongyang watchers, the commission is quickly becoming an alternative power center in the country and will be a leading organization with regard to foreign, economic and trade policies.
While some detractors in the Pyongyang watching community question the substance and seriousness of Kim Jong Un’s sports policies, Pyongyang policymakers view sports competitions and exchanges as becoming one reliable, dedicated channel through which the country interacts with the outside world and through which the outside world interacts, or visits, the DPRK.
Establishing Authority of New KPA High Command
During his first week of appearances, Kim Jong Un was determined to establish the authority of the new members of the KPA high command. He made five appearances with Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Gen. Jang Jong Nam (appointed in May 2013) and Chief of the KPA General Staff Gen. Ri Yong Gil (appointed in August 2013). They attended his two field inspections of forward-deployed defense units in the strategically critical West (Yellow) Sea.
Kim Jong Un’s appearances with Gen. Jang and Gen. Ri at those units symbolically established their position in the leadership and the high command by demonstrating their physical access and ties to the supreme leader. At the DPRK anniversary parade on 9 September, Kim Jong Un may have telecasted his choice as Director of the KPA General Staff Operations Bureau, when Col. Gen. Pyon In Son appeared on the parade reviewing platform overlooking Kim Il Sung Square.
- The country’s leading architect and construction manager, KWP Finance and Accounting Department Deputy Director Ma Won Chun attended 13 events. Ma was the most frequently reported member of Kim Jong Un’s entourage. Vice Marshall Choe Ryong Hae, Director of the KPA General Political Department attended 11 events. KWP Deputy Department Director Pak Tae Song appeared 10 times.
- Kim Jong Un’s two recent appointments to the KPA’s high command, Minister of the People’s Armed Forces Gen. Jang Jong Nam, and Chief of the KPA General Staff, were reported to have attended six (6) events each. Other first tier members of the leadership to attend events with Kim Jong Un was National Defense Commission Vice Chairman Jang Song Taek (nine events), DPRK Premier Pak Pong Ju (five events), Minister of People’s Security Gen. Choe Pu Il (three events), his aunt, KWP Secretary Kim Kyong Hui (three events) and KWP Secretary Choe Tae Bok (two events).
Other leadership notes
The most signficant event around the Pyongyang power center was the return to public life of KWP Secretary Pak To Chun. Pak is the country’s leading official in the production and development of conventional and advanced weapons. He made no public appearances from early May until he attended DPRK foundation anniversary events (such as the national report meeting and the parades) in early September; he was absent from state media and DPRK public life for almost four months.
Pyongyang watchers offered a number of rationales and theories about Pak’s disappearance from public life, ranging from ill health to corruption to technical problems in the country’s ballistic missile program. Pak has not only reappeared in public, but also did not lose his standing or position within the regime during his four-month absence.
Related to Pak To Chun’s reappearance, was the unreported public appearances of Second Academy of Natural Sciences President Choe Chun Sik. Choe appeared at Kim Jong Un’s tour of the U’nha Scientists’ Street, attired in a party cadres’ uniform. Choe later appeared at the apartment complex’s opening ceremony with other members of the central leadership; at that event Choe was attired in a KPA dress uniform which showed that is also ranked a Lieutenant General, with the rank’s two stars visible on the shoulderboards.
- On September 18, nearly 20 members of the DPRK central leadership visited the Unha Scientists’ Street as residents, many of whom were involved in the December 12, 2012 launch of the Unha-3 carrier rocket, moved into their apartments.
- DPRK state media showed these officials delivering housewarming gifts to the apartments and meeting with the residents and their family members. The apartment visits were similar to those made by members of the DPRK leadership following the opening of the Changjon Street apartment complex in central Pyongyang.
Pictures: Rodong Sinmun