SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his wife attended a Lunar New Year’s Day concert in Pyongyang where he received thunderous cheers from audience members and artists who praised him for heralding a “new era” of national power, state media reported.
The North’s official media has been highlighting Kim’s authoritarian leadership following a spree of missile tests in January, which some experts see as an attempt to pressure Washington over deadlocked nuclear negotiations after two years of pandemic border closures and economic decay.
The Biden administration has called for the United Nations (UN) Security Council to meet today to discuss North Korea’s most recent test of an intermediate-range missile potentially capable of reaching Guam, a key United States (US) military hub in the Pacific. Sunday’s test signalled a resumption of major weapons testing that Kim had suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with then-US President Donald Trump.
Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a major release of crippling US-led sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) yesterday said Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were greeted with “stormy cheers” after arriving at Pyongyang’s massive Mansudae Art Theater for Tuesday’s concert. KCNA said the audience appreciated that Kim was “ushering in on this land a new world and a new era when the people’s ideals and happiness and desire for building a powerful country are comprehensively translated into reality”.
Artistes performed songs and dances that demonstrated the “single-minded unity” of North Korean people and their devotion to build a socialist country “to be envied by the world”, the KCNA said.
Footage from state TV showed Kim and Ri smiling and talking at the theatre while sitting near Kim Kyong Hui, the leader’s aunt who was making her first public appearance in two years.
Kim Kyong Hui’s fate had been in doubt after Kim Jong-un had her husband and the North’s then-No 2 official, Jang Song Thaek, executed for treason and corruption in 2013. Rumours that she had been purged or executed by her nephew circulated for years before she was seen – also at a Lunar New Year’s concert – with Kim Jong-un in 2020.
Separately yesterday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement accusing Washington of continued hostility against the North and questioning the sincerity of its dialogue offers. The ministry criticised the continuance of US-South Korea military drills and repeated a dubious claim that the US has been sending strategic military assets to the region to pressure the North.