North Korea Makes Kim Jong Un Head of State

Shinhye Kang

(Bloomberg) -- North Korea has revised its constitution to make Kim Jong Un head of state, a promotion that could help normalize the isolated country’s diplomatic relations with the rest of the world.

A new text of North Korea’s governing document -- quietly posted on the propaganda website Naenara -- adds “represents the country” to the list of duties of the chairman of the State Affairs Commission, Kim’s top government title. While such a change had been speculated since North Korea amended its constitution in April, the regime never formally released the revised language.

The amendment, which the Yonhap News Agency reported Thursday, gives new legal underpinning to Kim’s status as North Korea’s “supreme leader” and could help normalize his interactions with other world leaders. The duty of representing the country was previously reserved for the president of the Supreme People’s Assembly Presidium, a position filled by Kim aide Choe Ryong Hae in April.

The change is the latest example of Kim’s efforts to establish North Korea a normal country that can be trusted with nuclear weapons and operate free from international sanctions. The once-reclusive leader has held 15 meetings with heads of state and government since his first trip abroad in March 2018.

Being head of state would make Kim a protocol equal to U.S. President Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping in any summits and treaty talks. Trump and Kim agreed to restart negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program in a historic third meeting earlier this month in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula.

Kim’s growing collection of titles has been interpreted as evidence that he has fended off any potential threats and completed the transfer of power that began after his father Kim Jong Il died in 2011. North Korea’s founder and the current leader’s grandfather, Kim Il Sung, was posthumously named the country’s eternal president.

Rachel Minyoung Lee, a Seoul-based analyst with NK Pro, said that concern about how the move to increase Kim’s status would be viewed so soon after the summit failure with Trump may have led him to publicize the move through Naenara, an outlet directed at a foreign audience.

“The million-dollar question is why domestic media never disclosed the details of the constitutional revisions,” Lee said. “This suggests there were domestic sensitivities.”

(Updates with analyst comment from penultimate paragraph.)

--With assistance from Brendan Scott.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shinhye Kang in Seoul at skang24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Brendan Scott at bscott66@bloomberg.net, Jon Herskovitz, Chris Kay

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