North Korean leader still crafting his image

After the end of the three-year mourning period for his father this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to seek a distinct leadership image and focus on economic reconstruction, analysts said Sunday.

The communist state is to mark the third anniversary of the death of late strongman Kim Jong-il on Dec. 17, after which the current leader could put forward his own governing principles, as his father established his own military-first policy, the analysts said.

The inexperienced leader in his early 30s has so far been seen as reliant on his father's governing lessons to manage state affairs, although he has apparently been seeking to weaken the influence of the rigid, conservative military to add flexibility in his statecraft, observers said.

"It is about time for Kim to introduce new slogans to open his own era (after the traditional three-year mourning period).

There could, perhaps, be some changes in his governing principles and ideologies," said Ahn Chan-il, the head of the World North Korea Research Center.

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies affiliated with Kyungnam University said in a report of its forecast for the year 2015 that the North may introduce a series of measures to create a distinct image of its regime and show off Kim's status to domestic and international audiences, as it marks the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the ruling Workers' Party next year.

"On the back of the stable political system built through the reorganisation of the power echelons, the North could present new governing norms and a new power structure so as to distinguish Kim's era from those of his two predecessors," said the report.

As to the new power structure, the report raised the possibility that a new title ― like the president for Kim Il-sung and the chairman of the National Defence Commission for Kim Jong-il ― could be created.

But it noted that the current regime could have a hard time securing its governing legitimacy as social openness, reform and economic reconstruction could be hamstrung by the regime's focus on the military buildup and its own survival.

Above all, the young leader may prioritize shoring up the debilitated economy, as the economic recovery is the only major task given that the North claims it has already become a "strong" nation ideologically with its "juche" (self-reliance) ideology and militarily with its nuclear programme.

"In line with what he has done over the last three years, the regime may seek to expand various reform or reconstruction measures. At the same time, it may seek to improve its economic ties with the South to get benefits, though the cross-border ties did not get any better," said Cho Bong-hyun, a senior researcher at the Industrial Bank of Korea.

Cho added that the North may push to attract more foreign investment from a variety of countries, while seeking to reduce its inordinate reliance on China.

"As there has not been a significant progress in its economic projects with China, the North may seek investment from Russia, Mongolia and European countries as well," he said.

"One of the reasons why the North seeks to diversify its partners other than China is that by doing so, the North could push China to invest more in the North, and it could also tacitly show that it can get by without much Chinese help."