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View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reappeared in state media for the first time in three weeks on Sunday, visiting the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang where the body of his father Kim Jong Il lies in state.
Kim’s visit alongside other top officials is an annual affair marking Kim Jong Il’s birthday, a national holiday named the Day of the Shining Star which falls on February 16.
It is only his fourth public appearance so far this year, however, making it historically an unusually quiet start to the year for the North Korean leader.
These also only included a single economic-related visit, with the other two being a visit to pay respects to a recently deceased war veteran and attending an arts performance, and with no appearance for the February 8 army foundation day holiday.
In 2019, by comparison, the February 16 visit to Kumsusan for his father’s birthday followed a trip to Beijing, a meeting with his negotiation team upon their return from Washington, a photo session with artists returning from China, and a series of visits and a “highly important speech” to mark army foundation day.
The year before, Kim had also already attended a military parade for the February 8 holiday, made visits promoting the State Academy of Sciences, boosting state education, and manufacturing of new trolley buses, and met with officials who had attended the winter Olympics opening in South Korea.
In 2017, he had already made five economic site visits, four military-related appearances, and others, while there were a similar mix of economic, military, and political-related visits in each of the previous years since coming to power as well.
The visits are usually a reflection of the annual promotion of a major speech on January 1 laying out the state’s economic, military, and political plans and expectations for citizens for the year.
This year, Kim’s new year address came in the form of a speech delivered on December 31 at a four-day party plenary meeting, with state media in the ensuing weeks focusing mainly on slogans from the speech which encourage citizens to find solutions to overcome difficulties wrought by economic sanctions.
Some analysts have speculated that the quiet start to 2020 for Kim Jong Un may be related to the country’s ongoing efforts to head off the novel coronavirus which has infected tens of thousands and killed over 1,500 people across the border in China.
North Korea responded in late January with a series of moves to almost completely close its borders, institute strict quarantine measures, educate the population on preventative measures, and clean and disinfect public spaces.
The ruling party daily Rodong Sinmun continued its extensive reporting on the coronavirus on Sunday, with one article even criticizing the failings of some citizens who, it claimed, were not taking the situation seriously enough.
One of Kim’s top officials, Premier Kim Jae Ryong, appeared wearing a mask earlier this week, as all citizens are being urged to do as part of the virus prevention measures.
On Sunday, however, leader Kim Jong Un, Kim Jae Ryong, and all other officials at the Kumsusan Palace appeared without donning masks.
Edited by Oliver Hotham