Ten years after Kim Jong Un assumed power North Korea is better armed but deeply isolated and more dependent on China, despite actions by the young leader that raised - and dashed - hopes of economic transformation or international opening.
Kim’s pursuit of nuclear weapons defined his first 10 years in power, but analysts say the path has left him isolated and facing perhaps the greatest challenges yet.
Those weapons may stand in the way of political breakthroughs needed to improve a shattered economy and prevent millions from starving, as ongoing anti-pandemic lockdowns and sanctions that have left him over-reliant on China.
Kim's attempts to win sanctions relief and a breakthrough in relations with the United States led to historic and unprecedented summits with U.S. President Donald Trump, but talks have since stalled with Washington demanding Pyongyang surrender some of its weapons before any sanctions are eased.
Kim will likely continue to "play tough" in nuclear diplomacy because further nuclear weapons development will increase his political leverage and bargaining power both in negotiations and during stalemates, said Duyeon Kim, with the U.S.-based Center for a New American Security.
"We can expect to see him continue to shape his personal and his country’s image as normal, modern, and advanced across all sectors particularly nuclear and economic, and even foreign affairs when the pandemic subsides," she added.
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