North Korean leader reappears amid tensions

Making his first public appearance in more than five weeks, Jong-un Kim, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, inspected a newly constructed residential area for scientists on Oct. 14. According to the BBC, this visit quelled rumors of his removal from power. The speculation started after it was reported that he was not present at a celebration for the anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers’ Party on Oct. 10. Rather, according to the New York Times, his use of a cane in the photographs released by state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) gives credence to reports of Mr. Kim’s physical discomfort due to leg injury or gout.
“There is so much speculation about North Korea because it is so mysterious, and off-limits to the rest of the world,” said Elizabeth Huh (12), MUN member. “Because people are worried that the collapse of [Mr. Kim’s] regime will lead to instability in the region, they are analyzing everything that they know to get a better idea of what is actually happening in the country.”
At the same time, the two Koreas exchanged gunfire across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) for the first time in four years. According to the New York Times, North Korean soldiers fired first in response to South Korean activists sending large balloons filled with anti-North Korea propaganda over the border. After several bullets landed in South Korea, its military fired back. High-ranking military officials from both countries met at the DMZ on Oct. 15 to discuss these border altercations, but could not resolve their differences. In fact, the two sides exchanged gunfire again on Oct. 19.
“Since the activists are exercising their freedom of speech when they release the leaflets into North Korea, it is difficult for the South Korean government to stop them,” said David Ahn (12), Government and Politics student. “But as long as North Korea reacts to the leaflets as if they are provocations, it is a risk to the safety of citizens living near the border. It is sometimes easy to forget that we are still technically at war.”
Despite these increasing tensions between the two countries, South Korean authorities have urged North Korea to stick to the plan to hold the high-level government talk, previously agreed upon on Oct. 4. However, North Korean authorities rejected South Korea’s offer to hold the talks on Oct. 30, according to Reuters.
“I do not think that North Korean officials want to move forward with negotiations as long as the health of their leader is in question, because it puts them in a relatively weaker position,” said Steven Smith, history teacher. “The conflict could be an excuse to delay talks until [Mr. Kim] is healthy enough to play a larger role in the discussions.”