SEOUL, North Korea is preparing to pay a grand tribute to deceased leader Kim Jong Il, but the country appears to be stepping up the deployment of its citizens abroad to earn currency for its cash-strapped regime.
Kim, who died on Dec. 17, 2011, is being mentioned frequently in North Korea state media reports, Yonhap reported.
Pyongyang’s KCNA stated “several countries” including Russia, Pakistan and Sweden, were observing the fourth anniversary of Kim’s death by forming “retrospective committees.”
North Korea also said in its statement the achievements of Kim Jong Il were being discussed and debated in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Hungary, Nigeria and Venezuela.
North Korean media outlet Uriminzokkiri featured a retrospective of Kim’s life, including a report on Kim’s 1996 visit to the North Korea side of Panmunjom.
While referring to the visit, Pyongyang stated that Kim never feared for the risk such visits posed to his personal safety, and that he held hands with North Korean soldiers at the truce village as he walked alongside them.
By 1996, North Korea was devastated by a widespread famine that would later kill millions of people, but state media did not mention how Kim’s policy decisions failed to address the impact of mass starvation.
Kim Yong-hyun, a South Korean professor of North Korean studies at Dongkuk University, said most of North Korea’s reports are to bolster public idolization of Kim Jong Un and establish his connection to the “Paektu bloodline” that defines dynastic rule in North Korea.
North Korea is still deeply impoverished, and Pyongyang employs all means available to bring in money from abroad.
South Korean television network KBS reported North Korea has been deploying its best visual artists to work in China to earn cash for the regime.
The artists, who were trained at Pyongyang’s Mansudae Art Studio, are held in captivity six months at a time in Dandong, China, according to the report.
As part of an agreement with a Chinese firm, the painters are commissioned to produce 25 canvases a month – in return for a monthly payment of $20,000.
KBS reported North Korean artists are similarly deployed in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.