SEOUL: Never mind the floods. Enjoy the rollercoaster ride and keep smiling.
That seems to be the impression the youthful new dictator of destitute North Korea wants the state propaganda machine to give to a public that may be facing even more than usual food shortages when drought was followed last month by devastating floods.
In the past few weeks, the 20-something Kim Jong-un, the third generation of a ruling dynasty better known abroad for its gulags than its compassion, has overturned the austere image that his father nurtured during his years in power.
This week state media showed the leader cheerfully riding a rollercoaster in an outdoor theme park he had opened, clapping performing dolphins and waving to a crowd of young people in bathing suits.
Apart from a brief spell at school in Switzerland, the young man has only known life inside the personality cult that gave his grandfather and father, and now him, god-like status to bolster their rule over the northern half of the Korean peninsula.
But unlike the relative prosperity when founder Kim Il-sung was in power, his grandson has inherited a state that cannot feed itself without Chinese aid, whose factories are rusting away and which relies on the potential threat of nuclear weapons as diplomatic leverage with a world that treats it as a dangerous pariah.
"We shouldn't exclude the possibility that he is just doing what he feels like," said B.R. Myers, a prominent expert on North Korea and its propaganda at the South's Dongseo University.
And he questioned whether the fresh-faced image really presaged wider change in a country where for decades state control has been overwhelming and poverty routine. (Reuters/tw)