International

Kim Jong-un has a plan and it’s coming to pass

For many, last Friday was the first time they heard the voice of the Supreme Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

It was — to some — a surprisingly steady voice, far from the cartoonish image of North Korean leaders fixed in our minds from too many Hollywood films and ill-informed media commentary.

It took me back to April 2012, the birth anniversary of North Korea's founding father and eternal President, Kim Il-sung.

Kim Jong-un's six year plan

Kim Jong-un was then in his late 20s and new to the leadership. He marked his grandfather's birthday with his first speech to the North Korean people.

Reporting for CNN, I watched the young leader stride on stage in a stadium filled with tens of thousands of soldiers.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un

Here is what I wrote at the time:

"The adoring crowd who have been chanting his name falls silent. Kim Jong-un, not yet 30 years old, appears slightly nervous. His voice doesn't waver but his body moves back and forth restlessly and his eyes dart around. If his nerves betray him slightly, his words stay strong.

"He stands atop the shoulders of the men who have gone before him, his grandfather and father. Directly below him hang the huge portraits of the man North Koreans call the Great Leader, Kim Il-sung, and his son the so-called Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il."

In hindsight, that speech was a road map to drag the nation into the 21st century, to make it strong and prosperous.

He laid out a commitment to build his nation's military, reunite the Korean Peninsula, bring peace and reform North Korea's economy.

It is clear to me now that this man had a plan and so much of what he spoke of has come to pass.

Reunification a key step

"We have suffered the pain of separation for nearly 70 years," Kim Jong-un declared in his 2012 speech.

"We have lived as one people on the same land for thousands of years. To suffer like this is heartbreaking.

"Our party and our government will work with anyone who truly wants reunification," he said.

It is impossible to overstate the pain of separation felt by the Korean people.

These are families torn apart by war, who haven't seen each-other for more than half a century.

So many have died with the dream of reunification unfulfilled.

Korean leaders seek 'permanent' peace on peninsula (Image: AP)

It is no surprise that the communique released after the meeting of the North and South Korean leaders last Friday sets out peace and reunification as the first goal: "South and North Korea will reconnect the blood relations of the people".

It stresses that they will "determine the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord".

Peace plan, military action

But back in 2012, Kim Jong-un was under no illusions that he was leading a nation at war.

As he told his assembled troops:

"Our military has become a powerful military able to handle any kind of modern warfare, with complete offensive and defensive capabilities.

"The foreign powers are not the only ones with monopoly on military supremacy, and the days of their threatening and lying to us with atomic weapons is forever gone."

What has he done since? Mr Kim has accelerated his nuclear program.

US intelligence estimates put his nuclear arsenal at as many as 60 bombs.

He has also fast-tracked his missile program, testing long-range delivery systems that could strike as far away as the western coast of the United States.

North Korea is at its most powerful position in its history.

Mr Kim has learnt the lessons of the past: he has watched as other regimes and other leaders — Iraq, Libya — with no nuclear capacity, have fallen.

He has vowed that will not happen to him: regime survival is paramount.

South and North Korean leaders plant tree in symbolic act (Image: AP)

Feeding North Korea

In 2012, Kim Jong-un presided over a nation that could not feed itself.

He knew the clock was ticking, his power could collapse if he could not build his economy.

Mr Kim made a pledge for his people to suffer no more and came as close as he could to admitting the regime had failed the people in the past:

"Our fellow citizens, who are the best citizens in the world, who have overcome countless struggles and hardships, it is our party's firmest resolve not to let our citizens go hungry again," he said.

Military might, reunification, economy: this has been Mr Kim's strategy, he has pursued his plan from that day to now.

Can we trust Kim Jong-un?

The man who spoke to the world last Friday, is slightly older and no doubt wiser but his aim is the same.

He is shrewd and calculating, he is clever and too easily underestimated.

He is also brutal: he jails his opponents, crushes dissent, silences freedom of speech — countless people languish in unimaginably cruel gulags — and has allegedly had his uncle and half-brother assassinated.

This is the man Donald Trump will sit down with. There are many good reasons to tread warily; North Korea has played this game before.

But this is a different leader, in a different era: he sees himself as a man of history.

He has styled himself on his grandfather; same hair, same mannerisms.

Kim Il-sung is still hailed as a hero; the man who built the nation.

In 2012 Kim Jong-un told us he wanted to be the man to finish his grandfather's work.

Matter of Fact with Stan Grant is on the ABC News Channel at 9pm, Monday to Thursday.

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Close