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Kim Jong-un’s apology jeopardises his god-like status

27 October 2020

North Koreans care more about access to food and medicine than their leader’s tears, says Timothy, a Christian who escaped from North Korea


Kim Jong-un at a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party, on 10 October

Kim Jong-un at a military parade to mark the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party, on 10 October

WHILE the world continues to face the challenges of the “ghost disease”, as Covid-19 is known in North Korea, Kim Jong-un continues to attempt to demonstrate his strength. This was clearly seen in the display of weapons which was part of the military parade celebrating 75 years since the ruling Workers’ Party was founded.

My own memories of the Party’s founding day in North Korea are of just another national holiday. But it is supposed to be a time to honour the Kim family. People will visit the Kim-family statues, and there will be talks, singing, and dancing for the Kim family. The Kims are worshipped as gods in North Korea.

It was no surprise to me to hear about this year’s military parade. But it should be surprising that such a display would take place during a global pandemic, while more than ten million North Korean people are urgently in need of food. Will Kim Jong-un continue to pour vast amounts of money into new weapons and neglect the people of North Korea, as his father, Kim Jong-Il, did?

Given this show of strength, it was strange to then hear him make what seemed to be an apologetic speech. At one point, he said: “Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily. I am really sorry for that.” He even had tears in his eyes. He appeared to admit his failure to feed the people of his country.


WAS it a genuine apology?

At first, seeing Kim Jong-un’s tears was very surprising: it has never happened before. For a moment, I didn’t know how to react. But when you see all these weapons of mass destruction, which were built upon the starvation of millions of people, his tears and apology are hard to believe. Perhaps his emotions were not genuine.

On the other hand, it could have been his acknowledgment of the current crisis that North Korea faces. The impact of the border closures because of Covid-19 have led to radically decreased food imports. Floods and typhoons have swept away rice fields. A shortage of food and medicine has caused market prices to rocket. The country faces an emergency, as more than ten million North Korean people — 40 per cent of the total population — stand in urgent need of food.

North Korea needs a breakthrough — and Kim Jong-un knows this more than anyone. Perhaps this is a window of opportunity for the international community to step in and continue the process of denuclearisation, in exchange for help. But it is hard to imagine such an outcome when Kim is determined to build these weapons on the hunger of his people.

Open DoorsAn artist’s portrait of Timothy 

IN 2014, the film The Interview was released. While this film made many jokes about Kim Jong-un, the part that was perhaps most shocking to North Koreans was that it portrayed Kim Jong-un as a real man, not as a god-like figure. The suggestion was so shocking that it led North Korea to hack into Sony Entertainment’s systems in retaliation.

North Korea never reveals the normality of its leader’s life. Instead, the three Kims are depicted through mythical stories as being like gods. For example, there is a story that Kim Il-sung caught a rainbow in his hand when he was a boy, and when Kim Jong-il was born, a star appeared in the sky (echoing the story of Jesus’s birth). On the birthdays of both the Kims, I remember being given gifts of sweets by my teachers in school, and they told us to bow to the portraits of the Kims in our house before we opened them, which I did. Before lunch, as child, I even had to thank the Kims for my food.

The Kims would never be shown crying or apologising, which is why this speech was so unusual for North Korean people. Perhaps, however, he wishes to portray the image of a caring leader.

What do North Korean people think? Their loyalty to Kim Jong-un will not prevent their children’s hunger, will not stop people escaping to China to seek food and freedom, and will not prevent family members’ being sent to prison camps.

Many people abandoned any loyalty that they once felt to the Kim family many years ago, especially those who are the same generation as Kim Jong-un and his sister Kim Yo-jong: they saw their classmates starving when they were in primary school.

Sustaining stable corn and rice prices on the markets is more important to ordinary people than Kim Jong-un’s tears, sympathising with the people’s situation alongside shining rockets and missiles.


THE Bible tells of brutal dictators who have fallen after the people of God cried out for justice in the midst of starvation and persecution. For example, God gave a specific mission to Moses to rescue the Israelites from Egyptian oppression. When injustice prevails for too long, God mobilises his people to pray and reach out to those in desperation.

If Kim Jong-Un’s tearful apology was a true moment of recognition of his people’s cry for justice, it is God’s intervention. Kim may have shown that he is a man who has the heart to express sympathy for his people’s desperation and recognises the hunger and persecution in front of him — a heart designed by our mighty Lord. He could choose to be a true leader, and commit himself to his primary responsibility to protect the North Korean people from starvation and injustice.

Let us continue praying for justice for the land of North Korea, its 25 million voiceless people, and its leadership. History remembers those who were persecuted, starved, and oppressed, and which dictators caused this to happen. But it is still not too late for the oppressor to become a caring leader.


Timothy’s identity is not revealed for security reasons.


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