North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visited a new city being built near the border with China, in his first public appearance in more than a month, Reuters reported on Monday, citing North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.
The town visited by Kim is the northern alpine town of Samjiyon which is being transformed into a massive economic hub, called a "socialist utopia" by officials, equipped with new apartments, hotels, a ski resort and commercial, cultural and medical facilities.
KCNA said Kim's latest trip was designed to inspect the third and last phase of construction, due to be completed by the end of this year after delays caused by international sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
The news agency did not give a date for Kim's visit, but it is the first report of public activity by the leader for 35 days, since he gave a speech at a defense exhibition, his longest absence since 2014.
Kim’s disappearance from state media often sparks speculation over his health or whereabouts. South Korea's intelligence agency said late last month that he had no health issues.
In 2020, for example, Kim was not seen in public between April and May. He appeared in North Korean state media on April 11 but missed the celebration of his grandfather's birthday on April 15, and then appeared a month later as he attended the opening of a fertilizer factory.
Meanwhile, talks between the US and North Korea on denuclearization of North Korea remain at a standstill.
Former US President Donald Trump tried to reach an agreement with North Korea while in office. Kim and Trump met in Hanoi in 2019 for a summit that left nuclear talks at a standstill.
The pair had met three times since June 2018 but made little progress towards denuclearization.
The new Biden administration reached out to North Korea but the country did not respond to those overtures.
In Biden’s first policy speech to Congress, he said nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran posed threats that would be addressed through “diplomacy and stern deterrence”.
Responding to that speech, North Korea dismissed the idea of talks with Washington, saying Biden’s speech was “intolerable” and “a big blunder."