UK & World News
Kim Jong-Un 'Makeover': Is There A Sinister Side?
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un's new look could be part of a ruse to help him develop a nuclear arsenal, Sky News has been told.
A series of images showing the despot laughing and smiling - often dressed in a straw hat with his jacket loose - have been released by the usually secretive state this month.
They were taken during visits to hospitals, children's centres and construction sites - and Leeds University lecturer Adam Cathcart, a leading commentator on North Korea, thinks the motives are clear.
"It's showing that maybe he's a bit of a reformer," Mr Cathcart told Sky News.
"They're trying to seduce the people who are willing to be convinced that maybe this generation is different. This buys them time to build their nuclear programme.
"It buys them time if there's less pressure from the West, and we're less likely to impose sanctions.
"Their real goal is to be seen as a de facto nuclear state."
North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests since 2006, eliciting a series of sanctions from the West.
In April US President Barack Obama issued a warning against a mooted fourth test.
Mr Cathcart believes the regime monitors closely its global perception - as illustrated when two officials confronted a London hairdresser over a poster of Mr Kim with the caption "Bad hair day?"
"They are sensitive to public opinion in the West," he said.
"They're reading what we're reading - they'll be reading this article on Sky News."
Mr Kim, 31, is modelling himself on his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, who ruled between 1945 and 1994 and is "unassailable" in North Korea, according to Mr Cathcart.
"The straw hat is harking back to the days of his grandfather, a period of nostalgia. Kim Il-sung died in 1994 before the famine kicked in and so was not as tainted by that.
"Kim Jong-Un has studied the way his grandfather acts, his mannerisms and the way he laughs - that's all deliberate."
As well as being seen across the world, images of Mr Kim appearing as a modern, amiable leader are designed to send an image to Koreans both north and south of the border, according to Mr Cathcart.
"It's the old story of a socialist government showing it is going in the right direction - especially as they have so many strikes against them with the killing of his uncle and all the sanctions.
"The office of Propaganda and Agitation are constantly trying to connect him to a new, prosperous image.
"You have to also recognise there are rumours about his health emanating from South Korea - it's part of an information war between the two countries.
"He has to be seen to be healthy, because what would happen if he wasn't around? Is his baby daughter going to take over?"