North Korean state media have released politically significant propaganda pictures of leader Kim Jong-un riding a white horse on the highest peak of the Korean peninsula, which is considered to be sacred by many Koreans.
- Mount Paektu holds significance in North Korean mythology
- Analysts say the symbolism underscores North Korea standing up to international sanctions
- The ride might signal major policy decisions ahead, state media reports
Scenic images of Mr Kim riding the horse through snowy fields and woods of Mount Paektu, the spiritual homeland of the Kim dynasty, have his supporters convinced that the leader is planning a “great operation”, according to North Korean state media.
It was unclear what the operation might involve, but Mr Kim had often reportedly made trips to the sacred mountain at times of major policy endeavours, including the 2013 execution of his powerful uncle and his 2018 entrance into diplomacy with Seoul and Washington.
The photos shared by state news agency KCNA were released days after North Korea’s first nuclear negotiations with the United States in more than seven months fell apart.
Both the location and the animal are also symbols associated with the Kim family’s dynastic rule — the white horse is a propaganda symbol for the Kim family, which has ruled North Korea for seven decades with a strong personality cult surrounding family members.
State media have occasionally shown Mr Kim, his sister and his father riding white horses.
KCNA described Mr Kim’s most recent horseback march as a “great event of weighty importance in the Korean revolution”.
“Having witnessed the great moments of his thinking atop Mount Paektu, all the officials accompanying him were convinced with overflowing emotion and joy that there will be a great operation to strike the world with wonder again and make a step forward in the Korean revolution,” KCNA said.
A statement and symbol of defiance: expert
In late 2017, Mr Kim visited Mount Paektu days after North Korea launched its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, and weeks before he made a key new year’s speech in which he opened the door to engagement with South Korea.
Last year, he took South Korean President Moon Jae-in to the top of the mountain as part of a historic summit.
Analysts have said the symbolism of this year’s visit underscores North Korea standing up to international sanctions and pressure over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
“This is a statement, symbolic of defiance,” North Korea expert Joshua Pollack said.
KCNA said Mr Kim also visited nearby construction sites in Samjiyon County and complained about US-led United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea because of its nuclear and missile programs.
“The situation of the country is difficult owing to the ceaseless sanctions and pressure by the hostile forces and there are many hardships and trials facing us,” Mr Kim was quoted saying.
“No matter what persistent efforts the enemy make, we can live well with our own efforts and pave the avenue to development and prosperity in our own way.”
North Korea has been slapped with a total of 11 rounds of sanctions since 2006.
The sanctions have been toughened since 2016 when Mr Kim began conducting a series of high-profile nuclear and missile tests, and they include a full ban on key exports such as coal, textiles and seafood and a significant curtailing of oil imports.