North Korea has published photographs of leader Kim Jong-un berating officials in a rare series of attacks on party workers for delays in key infrastructure projects.
In what has been interpreted as a signal to the outside world that he was serious about accelerating the country’s modernisation programme after his meeting with Donald Trump, the US President, in Singapore, Kim was shown on state media giving "on-the-spot guidance" to attentive officials at half finished power plants, holiday camps and misfiring factories.
Running a set of pictures of the leader’s “field guidance” visits, North Korea’s official news agency KCNA reported that Kim was "so appalled as to be left speechless” at delays to the Orangchon power station, which is only 70 per cent complete despite being planned in the 1980s.
After his meeting with Mr Trump and overtures to neighbours about security on the Korean peninsula, analysts said Kim was attempting to show of strong leadership to a domestic and international audience.
"To the people, he is projecting an image as a leader who is caring for their livelihood," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies said "and to the outside world, he is sending a signal that he is serious in his promise to denuclearise."
Criticism of officials is not unknown on field guidance trips, but the terms and scale of Tuesday’s denunciations were unusual. Since taking power when his dictator father Kim Jong Il died in late 2011, Kim, 34, has promised to boost living standards and sought to project an image of youth and modernity while pushing hard to build up North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.
Under his rule, the North’s economy has gradually improved with the expansion of some capitalist elements such as outdoor markets. But it is still one of the poorest countries in the world, and tough UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear and missile tests last year could take a huge economic toll if they continue, foreign experts say.
The carefully choreographed state coverage came as North Korea angrily dismissed reports of a covert uranium enrichment facility operating on the outskirts of Pyongyang as a “deliberate provocation” designed to derail efforts to cool regional tensions.
Pyongyang reacted with unusual haste in contradicting claims in The Diplomat, which on Friday published satellite photos of a facility that a US government source confirmed to the magazine is “the covert enrichment site referred to by the US intelligence community as Kangson”.
The magazine said the site has been operational for at least a decade and possibly as long as 15 years and is where North Korea enriches uranium for use in nuclear weapons.
The allegations come at a critical time as the US and North Korea attempt to implement a plan to denuclearise the Korean peninsula given strong backing at the summit between Mr Trump and Kim in June.
Pyongyang’s denials also coincide with a report in a Japanese newspaper that Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, used his visit to Pyongyang earlier this month to accuse the North of continuing to operate secret uranium enrichment facilities.
The Yomiuri newspaper said Mr Pompeo’s accusation was delivered directly to Kim Yong-chol, Kim Jong-un’s most trusted subordinate, and hints at growing disquiet in Washington at Pyongyang’s commitment to abolishing its nuclear weapons.
Kim Yong-chol insisted that North Korea has never built or operated a covert uranium enrichment plant.
Shortly after Mr Pompeo left North Korea, state media accused the US of making “gangster-like” demands and showing a “regrettable” attitude.
Mr Pompeo did not meet the North Korean leader during his trip, suggesting relations are once again cooling.
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