It was not, perhaps, the image Kim Jong-un would have wanted to project in his first public appearance as the latest authoritarian leader of North Korea in 2011. As wailing citizens exhibited their grief along the snowbound streets of Pyongyang, Kim, then only in his late 20s, cut a forlorn figure.
Dressed in a long black coat, Kim walked with grim purpose alongside the hearse carrying his father, Kim Jong-il, one hand resting on the bonnet of the 1970s Lincoln Continental, the other executing an awkward salute. He was later seen crying and drying his eyes at the burial service, in footage broadcast on state television.
“It was a mistake for some people to assume that he would be a reformer,” says Duyeon Kim, adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “Being educated in the west does not automatically mean one will subscribe to democratic values. At the end of the day, it’s all about ensuring the Kim dynasty lasts forever, so it is only natural that Kim will do anything to maintain a firm grip on absolute power.
“Kim has maintained his grip on power through a combination of the regime apparatus, keeping the elites happy who help sustain a Kim family leadership system, and employing brutal practices to enforce loyalty and eliminate threats.”
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