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Armed and Isolated: Ten years of Kim Jong Un’s reign

It’s been ten years since Kim Jong Un became leader of North Korea. He marks the third generation of his family to rule the reclusive state.At times throughout the last decade, the youngest Kim’s actions have raised and ruined hopes of economic transformation or opening up.Let’s take a look at his legacy so far.Kim Jong Un was born in the early eighties.He was hailed as the ‘Great Successor’, after his father Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack in 2011. But before that, the young Kim was shrouded in mystery.Kim’s reign so far has come to be defined by one thing: nuclear weapons. Four of the North’s six nuclear tests have been conducted under Kim Jong Un’s eye, along with numerous ballistic launches.”The entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons, and a nuclear button is always on my desk.”But Kim’s fixation on nuclear weapons has come with a heavy price.As a result, the UN and others have slapped tough economic sanctions on his country.That stands in the way of a political breakthrough needed to improve a shattered economy, and prevent millions from starving. SOUNDBITE (KOREAN) PROFESSOR FROM THE UNVIERSITY OF NORTH KOREAN STUDIES, SAYING:”North Korea has been working towards two huge goals – strengthening national defense and improving living standards.””I think (the living situation) got worse because of sanctions and the pandemic.”Kim seemed to embrace a different style than his father.He sought to win international respect – and sanctions relief – through summits with foreign leaders who repeatedly called for the North to denuclearise. This even led to unprecedented meetings between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump.But talks with America have since stalled. “They wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”Soon after, the North conducted its first missile test in years. At least, Kim had one ally in the U.S. who supported him.SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH) U.S. BASKETBALL STAR DENNIS RODMAN, SAYING: “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you.”Kim is known for displays of care towards everyday people in state media.But among those that have defected, some say that was just a facade.SOUNDBITE (KOREAN) DEFECTOR HA JI-WOO, SAYING:”Kim is emulating his grandfather because many people miss the past. So he tried to look and dress similar to his grandfather, and shed tears while giving speeches. That’s cosplay.”In reality, to tighten his grip on society, Kim seemed intent on continuing his father’s worst practices:Executions, including reportedly against his own family members, to political prison camps and cracking down on the number of defectors.Kim has also overseen crackdowns on foreign pop culture, as he seeks to stamp out influence from overseas.At least seven people have been put to death under him for watching or distributing K-pop videos, according to a Seoul-based human rights group.Analysts say North Korea under Kim Jong Un is better armed but more isolated.Sanctions and lockdowns have left Pyongyang over-reliant on China, with which it has a distrustful but vital relationship. Kim will have to make hard decisions over whether to trade any of his arsenal to win sanctions relief, or find other ways to boost the economy, such as allowing more international opening, without losing political grip.