Kim Jong Un Cries During Public Speech Apologizing for Regime Failings

North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un presided over a large pre-dawn military parade this weekend, marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the governing Workers' Party and unveiling what appears to be the country's latest intercontinental ballistic missile.

But Kim's speech during the event struck a remorseful, rather than triumphal, tone, the young strongman tearing up as he apologized for his regime's failure to improve the lives of the country's impoverished citizens.

Kim's tears were a rare display of contrition from a leader who has consolidated his rule over the secretive totalitarian nation, scored high profile summits with President Donald Trump and Chinese President XI Jinping, and cemented North Korea as a nuclear power.

Kim's regime is grappling with international sanctions, natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic, though the dictator claimed again Saturday there are no coronavirus cases in the country. Kim referred to the challenges as the "three hardships" during Saturday's speech.

The pressure showed Saturday, as Kim removed his glasses to wipe tears from his eyes during his speech. The public show of emotion may have been designed to garner sympathy from North Koreans.

"Our people have placed trust, as high as the sky and as deep as the sea, in me, but I have failed to always live up to it satisfactorily. I am really sorry for that," Kim said.

"Although I am entrusted with the important responsibility to lead this country upholding the cause of the great comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il thanks to the trust of all the people, my efforts and sincerity have not been sufficient enough to rid our people of the difficulties in their lives."

Kim closed his speech by promising to hold his regime accountable. "I will ensure that all party organizations, the government and power and military organs make more and more strict demands on themselves, direct strenuous efforts and work with sincerity for our people and for bringing a better tomorrow to them," he said.

Pyongyang used the military parade to unveil what appears to be North Korea's latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Despite a surprise detente between North Korea, South Korea and the U.S. in 2018, Pyongyang is believed to have continued its nuclear and ICBM research.

Kim has maintained a moratorium on tests, but the North is widely believed to possess dozens of nuclear warheads and ICBMs capable of reaching the continental U.S. Pyongyang is also believed to now be able to mount its warheads on these missiles.

Kim said in January his regime was working on a "state-of-the-art weapons system possessed only by advanced countries." The missile unveiled this weekend appears to be a two-stage, liquid-fuelled ICBM larger than its current longest-range missile—the Hwasong-15 first tested in 2017 with a range of some 8,000 miles.

Harry Kazianis, the senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest, said the missile "is much bigger and clearly more powerful" than anything in North Korea's existing arsenal.

Kazianis said this missile may allow the North to mount larger nuclear weapons on its ICBMs, use "penetration aids" to defeat U.S. missile defenses, or potentially launch multiple warheads on a single missile, making defense much more difficult.

The latest military parade allowed Kim to show the world his latest weapon and appeal directly to the North Korean people. But it also risked accelerating the spread of COVID-19 in the country, even as the regime continues to deny any active cases.

"Kim Jong Un clearly has put his people and ultimately himself at great risk as North Korea has very few tools to combat such a deadly virus as its healthcare system is one of the worst in the world," Kazianis said.

"Ultimately, this foolish display could test the regime's stability if the virus were to spread far and wide—an unforced error of perhaps historic magnitude. There is no missile worth showing off worth such a risk."

Kim Jong Un, North Korea, cry, speech
People watch a television news broadcast of a speech by North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un during commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the North's ruling Workers' Party held in Pyongyang, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea on October 10, 2020. Jung Yeon-je / AFP/Getty