When do you know there’s a major development in North Korea? The world will know it when Ri Chun-hee appears on TV, announcing news, of course. The 74-year-old Mrs Ri has been reading the news on North Korean state television since 1971 and appeared on Sunday to announce the regime’s latest military breakthrough – a “perfect success” of hydrogen bomb test.
Wearing a pink and black traditional dress, known as “hanbok” in the South and “choson chogori” in the North, Ri Chun-hee became chief news presenter by 1974 and is perhaps the single most important figure in the hermit kingdom propaganda machine. She survives when other supposedly more powerful figures perished in the hands of Kim dictators.
Mrs Ri’s style of presenting news – either a good or sad news – is extremely admired by the Kim dynasty because the people of North Korea could easily influenced and carried away by her combination of bombast and melodrama style, the same way the Indians were captivated by home-made Bollywood movies which must be filled with songs and dances.
Unlike the deaths of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in 1994 and 2011 respectively where she was seen weeping in tears on TV, Ri Chun-hee trembled with excitement – smiling broadly – on Sunday (3 Sept, 2017). Once again, Kim Jong-un gives Donald Trump the middle finger, conducted a test of a hydrogen bomb, creating a magnitude-6.3 tremor.
Effectively, the unleashing of the nuclear weapon means Pyongyang has tested its most powerful weapon to date. NORSAR, a Norway-based group that monitors nuclear tests, estimated it had an explosive yield of 120 kilotons – the power of 120,000 tons of TNT. However, South Korea gave a lower reading of only 50 kilotons, for obvious reason.
To put that in context, the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945 – which instantly killed 80,000 people – created a yield of 15 kilotons. Unlike atomic bomb (which generates energy through the process of nuclear fission), the hydrogen bomb, also called a thermonuclear bomb, is more powerful and uses fusion – or atomic nuclei coming together – to produce explosive energy.
Ri Chun-hee lives in Pyongyang and officially retired in January 2012 but made a return 4 years later (Jan. 2016) claiming that a nuclear test carried out was the kingdom’s first hydrogen bomb. Her latest appearance on Sunday on local television brought a bigger news – “The test marked a very significant occasion in attaining the final goal of completing the state nuclear force.”
Born to a poor family in Tongchon county in 1943, Mrs Ri studied performance art at Pyongyang University of Theatre and Film, first appearing on state broadcaster KCTV (Korea Central Television) – the only TV channel in the kingdom – in 1971. Known as the “people’s broadcaster”, she represents the feminine image for the state.
In fact, Ri Chun-hee is more influence and trusted than any wives of North Korean leaders, including the wife of Kim Jong-un – First Lady Ri-Sol-ju. If North Korean is America, this TV presenter would win presidency hands down because people have become so accustomed to her face. She is the one who is trusted by the people because she is the one they meet every night on the television
Living in relative luxury in Pyongyang with her husband, children and grandchildren, Ri Chun-hee is currently working on training the next generation of North Korea’s newsreaders. During an interview with CCTV (China Central Television) around the time of her retirement, she said – “I see younger people on television, and they are very beautiful. I realized for television you need to be young and beautiful.”
The drama queen can go from shouting to crying in long monologues. Therefore, even young and beautiful newsreaders would be fighting an uphill battle trying to be as good as the grandmother Ri. Peter Kim, an assistant professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said – “Whenever I see her, it seems like she’s singing instead of broadcasting the news stories.”
But Donald Trump isn’t impressed with Ri Chun-hee’s song of praise. Hours after she announced North Korea’s sixth bomb test – a “perfect success” and the biggest, President Trump rushed to his Twitter account – “North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States.”
This round, Trump didn’t tweet about engulfing North Korea in “fire and fury” or the U.S. military “locked and loaded” against the hermit kingdom. The U.S. president, clearly runs out of words, tries to shift the responsibility to China. But Beijing is playing the same game too, pretending to be concerned hence condemned North Korea’s nuclear weapon test, without any meaningful action.
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