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NK leader's image makeover effort in full swing

All Headlines 15:24 August 13, 2014

By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Aug, 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's young leader Kim Jong-un seems to be doing everything he can to project an image of an "amiable and modern" leader.

Taking a break from its typical criticism of South Korea and the U.S., the North's main newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, reported on a conversation between Kim and a five-year-old boy named Ri Myong-bok. Ri is an orphan at a care center for children in a remote province.

Meeting Ri at a Pyongyang hospital in May, Kim asked the boy about what he was doing, according to the newspaper's story on Wednesday.

Ri said he was just watching television, to which Kim reportedly asked what.

"I saw you Dear Leader," Ri was reported to have answered. Kim unexpectedly quipped, "It must have been no fun."

It is unusual for North Korea's dictator to make such a joke to a member of the public, and almost unthinkable for the communist nation's propaganda machine to report it.

Viewing a crowd chanting his name along with an abducted South Korean movie director, Sin Sang-ok, the late leader Kim Jong-il was once quoted as saying, "It's all fake. The people don't like me."

But the remarks have never been reported by the North's media.

North Korea watchers say Kim Jong-un appears to be modeling himself after his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, not his father who was called a "reclusive leader" by the outside world.

NK leader's image makeover effort in full swing - 2

Kim Jong-un, who was educated in Switzerland, has apparently endeavored to improve his image and that of his nuclear-armed nation through a number of unusual moves, including a stage show featuring Disney characters and a meeting with ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman.

The North's media have also released a series of images showing Kim with a beaming smile and even wearing sunglasses or a straw hat.

He has often made tours of amusement parks, children's centers and other public facilities, sometimes accompanied by his wife, who is considered "fashionable" by North Korean standards.

Experts here say Kim is deeply concerned about his popularity and is making efforts to reach out to the public.

Kim's leadership style is closer to that of his grandfather than his father in that he is seeking to win the hearts and minds of the people by seeming friendly to them, while being tough on his aides, said Chang Yong-seok, a senior researcher at Seoul National University's Institute for Peace.

lcd@yna.co.kr

leechidong@gmail.com
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