A snow-covered Kim Jong Un visited Samjiyon County in Ryanggang Province, where he inspected construction, according to state media.
The North Korean leader is visiting the area adjacent to Mount Paektu for the third time in 2018. The visit reported by KCNA on Tuesday is also Kim’s first public appearance in 19 days, when he was last seen at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to commemorate a Workers’ Party anniversary.
Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published more than 40 photographs of Kim at the site, where he is seen grinning widely, despite the snow. Unlike previous visits, the North Korean chairman of the state affairs commission was not wearing a fur hat.
Kim was likely in the area between Saturday and Monday, when heavy snow fell in the area, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.
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North Korea and the United States are planning high-level talks ahead of a possible second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim, but the meeting is likely to take place after the Nov. 6 U.S. midterm elections, a South Korean diplomatic source told Yonhap.
South Korean analyst Kim Yong-hyun at Dongguk University said Kim Jong Un’s appearance at Samjiyon is a calculated move and also a positive sign. The leader’s appearance signals interest in high-level talks with the United States, and his absence is an indication he has been carefully analyzing progress on dialogue and negotiations.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor of North Korean studies in Seoul, said Kim is prioritizing the development of Samjiyon County and that the project is one of his “four major targets” he highlighted in his New Year’s speech in 2018.
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North Korea continues to stress a socialist method of economic planning.
Ri Ki Song, identified as a researcher at North Korea’s Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in the Rodong Sinmun on Monday the nation’s mission is to build a ” strong socialist and knowledge economy that is independent and modern.”
Defectors and activists in the South have said North Korea’s planned economy has collapsed.