A cozier Kim Jong Un gives New Year’s Day address that’s more like a fireside chat

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a speech in a photo distributed on Jan. 1.
(KRT / Associated Press)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un brought a new look to his New Year’s Day address — ditching the formalities of a podium and microphone bank to speak from a plush leather chair in front of a wooden mantelpiece.

Wearing a suit and tie and sitting alone on camera, Kim brought fresh imagery to his address Tuesday, more reminiscent of a fireside chat than of a stiff address interrupted by the thunderous applause of fawning cadres. The atmospherics supported North Korean propaganda efforts to paint Kim as a modern political leader who could be trusted with a nuclear arsenal.

In previous years, Kim had stood at a lectern behind an array of a half-dozen microphones with a Workers’ Party flag behind him, sometimes wearing a suit and sometimes wearing a tunic like those favored by China’s Mao Tse-tung.


This year, he sat on a comfy chair in a wood-paneled room flanked by bookshelves and overlooked by paintings of his grandfather and father -- state founder Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il — at work at their desks.

With papers in hand, Kim looked into the camera and read at a brisk pace, while state TV cut away at times to show stock images of gleeful farmers and factory workers. The broadcaster piped in applause at the start and end of the speech.

Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, said the feel was reminiscent of the image Kim showed the world in June in Singapore, when he held his first and only summit with President Trump.

The North Korean leader, who had been described by Trump as a “Little Rocket Man” with nuclear ambitions, humanized himself by taking a late night stroll on Singapore’s modern streets the night before the summit that set off a social media firestorm.

During Kim’s three days in Singapore, North Korean state media trumpeted daily images never before seen in Pyongyang. On the front page of the ruling party’s flagship newspaper was Kim touring monuments to capitalism, stepping out of a Chinese jet and smiling while shaking hands with the “imperialist” U.S. president.