Kim Jong-un: 10 ways North Korea's 'Dear Leader' is different
In the two years since he came to power, Kim Jong-un has wrought significant changes on his nation. Few of those changes have benefited his 24.76 million subjects
1. Personal life
Previous leaders of North Korea have kept their wives and mistresses firmly in the background. Kim Jong-un has torn that rule up and began to parade Ri Sol-ju around from the summer of 2012, just six months after inheriting the leadership of the nation from Kim Jong-il.
Mrs Ri is regularly pictured accompanying her husband on his "inspection tours" of industrial and entertainment facilities, chic with her designer label clothes and handbags – although there are reports the fashion statements are copies. Mrs Ri vanished from sight in October of 2012 and apparently gave birth to a daughter around the end of the year.
2. Gulags expanded
Satellite images show that the regime has embarked on a massive expansion programme of its already extensive network of labour camps and prisons, which hold as many as 130,000 inmates in appalling conditions. A report by Amnesty International in early December suggested that new housing blocks have been built at Camp 16, which covers some 216 sq. miles in Hwasong County.
An estimated 30,000 inmates have simply vanished from the notorious Camp 22, in North Hamyog Province, according to a report by The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Detainees are "relentlessly subjected to malnutrition, forced labour, and to other cruel and unusual punishment," the report said.
3. Increasing ruthlessness
To stamp out any form of dissent, Mr Kim has become even more intolerant of alternative opinions than his famously stern father. According to intelligence reports from South Korea, there were 17 public executions in 2012, the first full year that Mr Kim was in power.
The most high-profile execution to date this year has been Jang Song-thaek, Mr Kim's uncle and mentor and an official so high in the national hierarchy that he was believed to be untouchable. More heads are likely to roll. Mr Kim also ordered the execution of a former mistress, Hyon Song-wol, along with a dozen other musicians and singers from North Korea's three most popular pop bands. All were machine-gunned, while their families were forced to watch, after being accused of making videos of themselves performing sex acts and selling them.
A huge fan of basketball, Mr Kim believes he is in with the NBA crowd after enticing Dennis Rodman, the former US basketball star, to North Korea on two occasions.Mr Rodman is scheduled to pay a third visit to Pyongyang as he sets up a series of exhibition matches for the personal entertainment of the young dictator.
Mr Kim and his older brother, Kim Jong-chul, who heads his personal protection detail, are also big Eric Clapton fans and it would come as no surprise had they approached the veteran musician to sound him out about performing in Pyongyang.
5. Economic policies
Long reliant on China to survive economically, Mr Kim gave hints in his early days in power that he would try to introduce similar liberalisation measures that have helped turn China into an economic powerhouse. International trade was initially impacted by United Nations sanctions imposed after missile and nuclear tests, but that appears to have recovered in recent months.
Mr Jang was spearheading the drive in a new economic direction and had built close economic ties with China before he fell foul of the North Korean military. Mr Kim's future economic policies are likely to be heavily influenced by what is in the military's best interests.
6. Projects for the people
Previous generations of the Kim dynasty simply did not care very much about the well-being or happiness of the people; money went to the armed forces, under the "military-first" policy, or was spent on luxuries for the elite in society. Apparently influenced by the years he spent at a private school in Switzerland, Mr Kim has apparently decided to spend some of the nation's cash on projects to keep the people happy. Or at least the privileged few who are loyal to the regime and permitted to live in Pyongyang.
A brightly coloured water park has opened in the capital, residential districts have been spruced up and new hospitals, schools and gyms constructed. The massive May Day Stadium is being renovated, a riding club with 60 horses has been constructed in Pyongyang and – in the most ambitious project – thousands of "soldier-workers" are labouring to build the Masik Pass Skiing Ground over more than 68 miles of mountainside, complete with cable cars, a hotel, equipment stores, restaurants and a heliport.
7. Relations with China
Mr Kim's father and grandfather were scrupulously careful not to offend their huge neighbour and the country that saved their regime in the 1950-1953 Korean War by ordering an estimated 1.35 million "volunteers" to repel UN advances up the peninsula. Kim Jong-un seems more willing to thumb his nose at Beijing, which applied a great deal of pressure on the young leader not to launch a rocket in December 2012 and then to follow that up in February of this year with North Korea's third underground nuclear test.
That pressure came to nought and the Chinese leaders would have been embarrassed by their inability to bring Mr. Kim to heel. Their displeasure was demonstrated by their support for UN sanctions on Pyongyang – which North Korea did not expect. But diplomatic relations and economic ties returned to normal within a matter of months.
Kim Jong-il staged occasional crackdowns on would-be defectors, but this has been raised to new levels under Kim Jong-un. Additional army units have been posted to the border to supplement frontier police and there are reports that officials that in the past were happy to take bribes to look the other way are being punished.
As well as attempting to halt the defections, the North's agents are working more closely with the Chinese authorities to recapture groups that have made the perilous crossing and are trying to traverse Chinese territory to safety in a third country. In June, a group of nine defectors – the youngest just 13 – was caught on the border with Laos and forcibly returned to North Korea. After appearing on state television to insist that they were delighted to be home, the nine were reportedly executed.
9. Missiles and nuclear warheads
North Korea has always used its nuclear and missile programmes as bargaining chips when dealing with the rest of the world. Under Kim Jong-un, the reactor at Yongbyon has been restarted and the plant is capable of producing 13.2lbs of plutonium a year to add to its existing stockpiles.
More significantly, North Korean media is now describing the nuclear project as the nation's "shield for self-defence" and insists that the regime's nuclear weapons are simply not going to be included in any international negotiations.
North Korean state media has whipped itself up into a state of verbose frenzy with the public purge of Jang and his subsequent execution, but the Korea Central News Agency has gradually been stepping up its verbal assaults over the last two years.
There have been repeated threats to turn Seoul into "a sea of fire," the government in South Korea is "confrontation maniacs" and "psychopaths," while newspapers are "reptile media." The vividly colourful descriptions – invariably delivered in strident tones on North Korean television – are reminiscent of propaganda of the 1930s and 1940s, but more menacing because it is coming from a nuclear-armed regime that many analysts believe would go down fighting if it sensed that its time was up.