Kim Jong Un's fireside chat shows North Korea bid for acceptance

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a Jan 1, 2019 photo by the country's Korean Central News Agency. The setting is a departure from more formal past addresses.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a Jan 1, 2019 photo by the country's Korean Central News Agency. The setting is a departure from more formal past addresses.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought a new look to his New Year's address - ditching the formalities of a podium and microphone bank to speak from a plush leather chair in front of a wooden mantle piece.

Wearing a suit and tie and sitting alone on camera, Mr Kim brought fresh imagery to his New Year's address on Tuesday (Jan 1), more reminiscent of a fireside chat than of a stiff address interrupted by thunderous applause of fawning cadres.

The atmospherics supported North Korean propaganda efforts to paint Mr Kim as a modern political leader who could be trusted with a nuclear arsenal.

In previous years, Mr Kim had stood at a lectern behind an array of a half dozen microphones with a Workers' Party flag behind him, sometimes wearing a suit and sometimes wearing a tunic like those favoured by China's Mao Zedong.

This year, he sat on a comfy chair in a wood-panelled room flanked by bookshelves and overlooked by paintings of his grandfather and father - state founder Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il - at work at their desks.

With papers in hand, Mr Kim looked into the camera and read at a brisk pace, while state TV cut away at times to show stock images of gleeful farmers and factory workers. The broadcaster piped in applause at the start and end of the speech.

Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, said the feel was reminiscent of the image Mr Kim showed the world in June in Singapore, when he held his first and only summit with President Donald Trump.

The North Korean leader, who had been described by Mr Trump as a "Little Rocket Man" with nuclear ambitions, humanised himself by taking a late night stroll on Singapore's modern streets the night before the summit that set off a social media firestorm.

During Mr Kim's three days in Singapore, North Korean state media trumpeted daily images never before seen in Pyongyang.

On the front page of the ruling party's flagship newspaper was Mr Kim touring monuments to capitalism, stepping out of a Chinese jet and smiling while shaking hands with the "imperialist" US president.