“All the officials who accompanied him to the top of the mountain felt overflowing emotion and joy and [were] convinced that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and advance the Korean revolution a step forward.”
In North Korea’s state mythology, Mount Paektu is supposed to be the spiritual home of the Kim dynasty and the birthplace of Kim Jong Un’s father.
Kim purportedly “climbed” the 9,000-foot peak in shiny black leather shoes in December 2017, about 10 days after launching the country’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile and less than a month before delivering a key speech that opened a diplomatic window for engagement with South Korea.
He also took South Korean President Moon Jae-in up the active volcano, which straddles North Korea’s border with China, after a summit in September last year.
This time, Kim supposedly “personally” rode the horse up the mountain.
In his latest foray into nature, Kim took time on the horse to recollect “with deep emotion the road of arduous struggle he covered for the great cause of building the most powerful country with faith and will as firm as Mount Paektu,” state media reported. It added that he took in a bird’s-eye view “that looked like the high steep mountains of the revolution he has to pass in high spirits.”
The official account hailed his ascent as reflecting “the majesty of the illustrious commander” who was determined to advance his country to “achieve prosperity with its own efforts, meeting all headwinds.”
Experts speculated that the dictator’s trip up Mount Paektu could signal a major announcement, amid faltering nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst with the NK Pro website based in Seoul, said Pyongyang’s coverage of Kim’s ride emphasized power and a hard line against concessions to the outside world.
“State media has consistently played up North Korea’s rise to the ranks of powerful states as one of Kim’s major achievements after the failed Hanoi summit,” she said, referring to Kim’s meeting with President Trump in February.
The coverage also emphasized the Mount Paektu visit’s symbolism and said it was for “meditation,” Lee said, suggesting that the regime may be about to make decisions about key issues.
Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung was supposedly visited by a white horse during his battles against Japanese occupation and was often pictured riding such a steed. Lee said the regime’s reporting was also meant to suggest similarities between the younger Kim and his grandfather, North Korea’s founding leader.
Relations between North Korea and its southern neighbor have nose-dived since Kim took Moon up the mountain last year, while talks with the United States in Stockholm this month ended with North Korea issuing a denunciation of Washington.
The image of Kim on horseback was also reminiscent of the macho imagery employed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who often appears bare-chested while riding, swimming and fishing.
Kim has given the United States until the end of the year to change what North Korea calls its “hostile policy” or face unspecified consequences.
In separate remarks released Wednesday after a trip to construction sites in nearby Samjiyon county, Kim had a message of defiance for the United States, and a vow that his country would prosper despite international sanctions.
The pain the U.S.-led “hostile forces” had inflicted on the Korean people “is no longer pain but it turned into their anger.”
“Whenever the enemies try to strangle us with the chain of pressure, we should pave the way with our own efforts to continue to live well under the banner of the great spirit of self-reliance so that the enemies feel a pain in their stomach and head,” he said.
By visiting Samjiyon, Kim was trying to show that North Korea is standing strong despite sanctions, said Lim Eul-chul, an expert on the North Korean economy at Kyungnam University in Seoul.
“For the domestic audience, Kim intends to lower the expectations for nuclear talks with the United States and give a fresh push for ‘self-reliance,’ ” he said. “For people outside North Korea, Kim is showing that he won’t give in to the sanctions pressure to make concessions in negotiations with Washington.”