A recent change in North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's fashion style is raising questions over whether it reflects his desire to craft a unique image of his own, eight years after he took the throne in a third-generation hereditary power succession.
In a shift from his characteristic style reminiscent of those of his late grandfather and father, Kim was seen wearing a black leather trench coat while overseeing a test-firing of a super-large multiple rocket launcher Thursday.
The relatively young leader was also spotted donning a long ivory trench coat and a blue shirt during his "field guidance" at a military installation on the border islet of Changrin days earlier.
Such a change has spawned a flurry of speculation that now with consolidated power in the communist state, Kim might be seeking to cultivate his own image that sets himself apart from his predecessors.
"Kim appears to be striving to build his own image and sphere as much as he can," said Kim Yong-hyun, a North Korean studies professor at Dongguk University.
With only a few years of grooming, Kim took power upon the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December 2011. Since then, the inexperienced leader had been seen just riding the coattails of his father and his grandfather Kim Il-sung.
Kim's swept-back hairstyle, horn-rimmed glasses and black Mao-style suit had strikingly resembled those of his grandfather, who enjoyed wide public support for his past movement against Japanese colonial rule and role in the North's national foundation.
His apparent effort to build the similar public persona as his grandfather appeared inevitable, observers said, as he was then consumed with the daunting tasks of consolidating power in the ruling party, government and military -- institutions that his charismatic predecessors dominated following decades of experience and personal ties to them.
Some analysts said that the recent change in his outer appearance may have more to do with his personal preferences, while downplaying political implications related to his desire to project a fresh image as a national leader.
Indeed, the current North Korean leader has shown a different leadership style from his former reclusive predecessor, as evidenced by his diplomacy with the United States, China and Russia. With US President Donald Trump, he held three one-on-one meetings, including impromptu talks at the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas in June.
But questions still remain over whether the change in his outfit could herald a major shift in the North's foreign and military policies.
Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since their last working-level talks in Sweden in October, as the two sides still remain far apart over the scope of the North's denuclearization steps and what should be given in return.
The North has also recently been ratcheting up tensions by firing short-range projectiles and hardening rhetoric against the South and the US, ahead of the year-end deadline it set for Washington to put forward a new proposal acceptable to it. (Yonhap)