Foreign media has noted (somewhat ominously) that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has paid three visits to military posts this month. As a review of the year thus far, Kim has made more public appearances at military venues than all other visits combined (if the trip to China is counted as a single appearance).
Many of Kim's unit inspections were timed to protest the annual USA/ROK Foal Eagle and RSOI (Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration), in late March. In the days leading up to the exercises and into the early days, Kim visited facilities on March 19, 21,22,23,24 and 25. With the level of internal political rhetoric, Kim's visits underscored the sense of embattlement at home. They do little for external audiences unless the foreign media decides to play them up, which they occasionally do when they are stretched for stories or want to add drama to an otherwise dull day in Asia.
A brief look at Kim's public visits this year show 15 visits to military facilities in 14 different days through Apr. 9, two visits related to science and education, four attendances at cultural or entertainment venues, four tours or field guidance trips to economic, infrastructure or construction projects, and a week-long visit to China, where Kim toured several different factories and economic venues.
Kim's emphasis on the military is necessary as he ponders his next moves on the economic front. If he chooses to abandon the six-party talks, setting back his economic experiments, he will need to heighten the sense of embattlement at home, and thus will play up the role of the military, which train "in the spirit of hitting all enemy targets with burning hatred for the U.S. imperialist aggressors, the brigands."
There has been a clear signal from Washington that the time for talks is running out, and that Washington will simply abandon the six-party process within a few months if North Korea doesn't take concrete steps to at least disclose its nuclear facilities, which would pave the way for the planning of a way to verify the closure if not destruction of the facilities. But even if Pyongyang does make the list, it is not entirely sure the current U.S. administration will offer any incentives to the North, nor that the administration will be able to follow through on any promises it may make, given the fact that the president cannot run for another term and the Republican Congress is looking shaky and distant from President Bush.
On the other hand, if Kim decides to jumpstart the six-party talks as a means to accelerating his economic experiments, he will need to make sure the military remains loyal, and the population continues to see the centrality of the military, and not look for alternatives. Kim continues to fear a North Korea faced with localized protests and unrest as seen in China, and North Korea cannot absorb the social backlash nearly as well as China can.
Kim's public visits this year are listed below. More details are available at Where is Kim Jong Il 2006.
January 4, 2006: Visited the new e-library and gymnasium at Kim Chaek University of Technology.
January 6, 2006: Met Ku Tae Hong and Kim Hyok Il, six-year old boys of rare talent in calligraphy and painting, from the Ponbu Kindergarten in Sinuiju City.
January 6, 2006: Watched the performance "Blue Sky over My Country" given to celebrate the New Year.
January 10-18, 2006: Paid an unofficial visit to the People's Republic of China, with visits to Hubei Province and Guangdong Province, including Wuhan, Yichang, Guangzhou, Zhuhai and Shenzhen, and meetings with Chinese president Hu Jintao, NPC Chairman Wu Bangguo and Premier Wen Jiabao, among others.
January 27, 2006: Inspected KPA Unit 932.
January 28, 2006: Saw a performance of "Blue Sky over My Country" given at the Pyongyang Indoor Stadium on the occasion of the lunar New Year.
February 4, 2006: Visited several sites in Kanggye City, including the Kanggye Wood Processing Factory, the Kanggye Koryo Medicine Processing Factory, the Jagang Provincial Branch of the Central Bank and the Hungju Chicken Farm.
February 6, 2006: Inspected KPA Unit 1687.
February 15, 2006: Saw a performance given by the central military band of the Defense Ministry of Russia.
February 17, 2006: Enjoyed a performance given by the State Symphony Orchestra.
February 23, 2005: Inspected KPA unit 120.
February 24, 2006: Inspected KPA Unit 226.
February 25, 2006: Gave field guidance to the Munchon Kumgang Smeltery.
March 2, 2006: Inspected KPA Air Force Unit 991 honored with the title of O Jung Hup-led Seventh Regiment.
March 2, 2006: Inspected KPA Unit 1522.
March 3, 2006: Provided field guidance to the new facilities in Samjiyon town, including the Samjiyon Children's Palace, the Samjiyon County House of Culture, the Sports Village in Mt. Paektu area, and the newly-built Pegaebong Noodle Shop.
March 5, 2006: Provided field guidance to the construction site of the Samsu Power Station.
March 19, Inspected the forward commanding post of KPA Unit 851.
March 21, 2006: Inspected a women's sub-unit of KPA Unit 824.
March 22, 2006: Inspected sub-units of KPA Unit 604.
March 23, 2006: Inspected the Command of Air Force Unit 435 of the KPA.
March 24, 2006: Inspected Unit 236 for Training Recruits of the Air Force of the KPA.
March 25, 2006: Inspected KPA Unit 3406.
April 5, 2006: Inspected an artillery company of KPA Unit 821 situated on the front.
April 6, 2006: Inspected a three-revolution red flag women's company of KPA Unit 292.
April 9, 2006: Inspected the tank and armoured car drivers training sub-unit of KPA Unit 604.