Kim’s horseback ride spurs speculation over policy shift

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
An undated photograph released on Wednesday depicts North Korean leader Kim Jong-un riding a white horse through the first snowfall at Mount Paektu. AFP/KCNA VIA KNS

New pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un riding a white horse through a winter landscape to the summit of Mount Paektu, a sacred peak for North Koreans, have fuelled speculation that he may be set for a major policy announcement.

The images released by state KCNA news agency were accompanied with gushing text that noted the “noble glitters” in Kim’s eyes and labelled his snowy, horseback ride “a great event of weighty importance” for the nation.

Accompanying officials were left convinced that “there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and make a step forward in the Korean revolution,” the agency said.

Analysts said the hike may signal a new policy direction for the nuclear-armed North.

“In the past, Kim has climbed Mount Paektu ahead of major political decisions,” said Shin Beom-chul, an analyst at the Asan Institute of Policy Studies.

Kim hiked to the peak in December 2017 before launching diplomatic overtures that led to his first summit with US President Donald Trump.

But negotiations have been gridlocked since a second summit between Kim and Trump collapsed in February and the North has been raising tensions through a series of missile tests.

The sight of North Korean leaders riding white horses across snow-capped peaks – and in particular Mount Paektu - have been a dominant theme of past photos, posters and portraits of Kim’s father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung.

B.R Myers, a professor at Dongseo University in South Korea who specialises in North Korean propaganda, said the images present an imperial motif of a leader protecting the cultural and ideological purity of the nation from corrupt, outside forces.

Kim also visited the site of a massive construction project in nearby Samjiyon county, KCNA reported and blamed US-led international sanctions for his country’s hardships.

“The situation of the country is difficult owing to the ceaseless sanctions and pressure by the hostile forces and many hardships and trials are facing us,” Kim was quoted as saying.

North Korea is under multiple sets of UN sanctions for its nuclear and missile programmes.

Pyongyang and Washington restarted working-level talks this month in Sweden only for it to quickly break down, with the North blaming the US for not giving up its “old attitude”.

North Korea tested this month what it said was a submarine-launched ballistic missile that marked a “new phase” in its capabilities – the most provocative in a series of weapons tests it carried out since 2018.