Kimchi is a fermented cabbage dish traditional to the Korean peninsula. Under half a century of communist rule, North Koreans have regularly endured famines and chronically suffer from malnutrition if they do not belong to the highest ranks of Kim’s Korean Workers Party (WPK). Under unprecedentedly strong sanctions for nearly two years following its last nuclear weapon test in 2017, Pyongyang demanded sanctions relief on the grounds of an impending food crisis as recently as this February, shortly before President Donald Trump met Kim in person in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Trump walked out of that summit, accusing North Korean negotiators of being too intransigent in talks. The North Koreans denied the claim, insisting on sanctions relief without proof of completely dismantling their illegal nuclear program. The sanctions remain in vigor today, despite attempts by Russia and China to withdraw those imposed through the United Nations Security Council.
Washington and Pyongyang have engaged each other on a limited basis since the Hanoi talks collapsed. In early December, a senior North Korean diplomat threatened to give the United States a “Christmas gift” of unspecified content in retaliation for not pushing to lift international sanctions.
“The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea] has done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps it has taken on its own initiative,” Vice Foreign Minister for American Affairs Ri Thae Song said at the time. “What is left to be done now is the U.S. option and it is entirely up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select to get.”
Shortly after that threat, North Korea’s various propaganda outlets published a series of dramatic photos of a portly Kim riding a horse through the dense snow surrounding Mount Paektu, a volcano on the North Korean-Chinese border that the Korean people consider a holy site, the origin of the Korean people. The images, experts explained, were likely meant to show Kim’s strength and virility to the Korean people. They were published alongside remarks by a senior North Korean diplomat calling President Donald Trump a “dotard” and warning that it would be “unfortunate” if North Korea felt compelled to attack America because of Trump’s “language and expressions.”
Christmas came and went without a “gift” materializing, however. On Christmas Eve, Trump referenced the promised gift in remarks to reporters, joking, “maybe it’s a present where he sends me a beautiful vase as opposed to a missile test right. I may get a vase.” The White House has provided no indication it has received a vase from North Korea.
“Stalls serving various kimchi produced by the Ryugyong Kimchi Factory can be seen in different parts of Pyongyang, the capital city of the DPRK. The factory is associated with devoted efforts of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un,” KCNA reported. The report claimed that Kim galvanized kimchi producers in a 2016 speech in which he ordered them to “produce in a larger quantity various kinds of fresh kimchi with high nutritive value and peculiar taste and supply them to the public catering establishments and residents in the city of Pyongyang, thus contributing to the improvement of people’s diet.”
“Thanks to his guidance of devotion to the people, the Ryugyong Kimchi Factory came into being and a new history of industrial production of kimchi was opened,” KCNA applauded.
While KCNA praised Kim’s advances in kimchi, the dictator himself presided over another plenary meeting of his party Sunday in which he “put forward in detail the orientation of the struggle for bringing about a decisive turn in the development of the country’s economy and people’s standard of living.” While Kim emphasized economic advancement – which North Korea often does when it seeks to show the United States it is ready for dialogue – Kim also ordered the military to “take positive and offensive measures,” which KCNA did not describe in detail.
Kim concluded demanding North Koreans continue their struggle not only against “anti-socialism,” but something it described as “non-socialism,” apparently the ideology of nations not openly opposed to socialist and communist dictatorships but who also do not impose it on their people.
Kim Jong-un is expected to address the nation, as he traditionally does, for a wide-ranging speech on New Year’s Day.