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Kim’s Mt. Paektu visit could be a warning sign

Dec 11,2017
이미지뷰
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits Mt. Paektu, North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency reported on Saturday. [YONHAP]
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited Mt. Paektu on Friday, a sign that he may be planning a significant act in the near future.

“Kim visited the mountain and ordered the site managers to construct hospitable accommodations on the mountain for visitors,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Saturday.

A visit to Korea’s most mystical mountain often precedes significant decisions by North Korean leaders.

In November 2013, Kim visited the mountain with his aides. It was a month before he executed top officials including Jang Song-thaek, his uncle and political guardian. He visited the mountain again in April 2015, just before executing Hyon Yong-chol, a former defense chief.

He had also made a pilgrimage after North Korea’s fifth nuclear test in September 2016.

“[Kim Jong-un’s father] Kim Jong-il did the same, he visited the mountain right before announcing in 1974 his list of 10 social decorum [which includes the commandment that the people remain completely loyal to the head of the state],” said a South Korean government insider.

“Kim also visited the mountain just before executing Kim Tong-kyu, then-senior official for international affairs, in 1977.

“Kim Jong-un is following in his father’s footsteps in visiting the mountain at times of important decisions regarding the state.”

It’s impossible to predict if the visit augers another nuclear or missile test, or an action of a completely different sort.

North Korea’s latest missile test was on Nov. 29, after a 75-day hiatus of provocations. The Hwasong-15 missile tested on Nov. 29 went farther and higher than any missile tested before and can reach all parts of the United States.

Kim has conducted 11 missile tests since South Korean President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated last May, and conducted the country’s sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3.

Some analysts cautioned against reading too much into the North Korean leader’s visit to the mountain.

“Kim visited the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun [the mausoleum of his grandfather Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong-il] right after the Hwasong-14 missile launch on July 4,” said Yang Mu-jin, a professor of North-South relations at the University of North Korean Studies in central Seoul. “So this visit to Mt. Paektu could also be a celebratory one for the successful launch of the Hwasong-15 missile on Nov. 29.”

KCNA reported on Saturday that Kim visited the mountain “after his big achievements in November.”

“Kim has a lot on his plate, as next year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean government,” said a South Korean government insider.

“So he needs to deliver tangible results on the country’s politics, economy and diplomacy. So it is likely Kim thought through what he is going to present as his vision for next year during his visit to Mt. Paektu.”

Kim has visited Mt. Paektu five times during his six-year rule, but this is the first time he is making a visit in December. It was around negative 20 degrees Celsius (negative 4 degrees Fahrenheit) on top of the mountain on Friday, according to North Korea’s Korean Central TV.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]