Exactly how old is Kim Jong Un?
North Korea's supreme leader, who rose to power last December after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, is suspected to be in his late 20s -- nobody knows for sure. But in a moment of national celebration on Friday, one might say that the leader of 24 million people began to show his age.
In a musical performance for the budding dictator, a slew of Walt Disney characters danced on a lighted stage. Mickey Mouse, Snow White, Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and others twirled in tandem, backed by music from a live band.
This was an odd choice for North Korea, which has historically resisted Western cultural influences. It has no diplomatic relations with the U.S., and strong sanctions inhibit trade between the two countries.
Still, characters such as Mickey, Winnie, and Dumbo were already known to children in North Korea, the Associated Press reported. The characters adorn school supplies, pajamas, and other children's products. However, using them in such an official context -- and releasing photos of the event to the North Korean public -- marks quite a departure.
Then again, Kim Jong Un appears to be a bit more open-minded than was either his father or his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. He recently lifted a ban on women's fashion; they can now wear pants, earrings, and platform shoes in public, according to ABC News. Food is also being revolutionized, with staples such as coffee, hamburgers, and pizza making appearances where they were previously prohibited.
In recent days, Kim Jong Un has also selected a new theme song to represent his leadership. The tune, called Onwards Toward the Final Victory, is a soaring orchestral piece meant to inspire the populace. The song hardens the will of the Korean army and people to devote their all to the prosperity of the country with high national pride, reported the Korean Central News Agency.
But many North Koreans see little cause for celebration. According to a United Nations report in March, more than 6 million people -- nearly one-quarter of the population -- are in desperate need of international food aid. Recurring droughts and poor health-care infrastructure only worsen the crisis.
The U.S. has been a prominent food aid donor to North Korea, but uses that assistance as leverage and often revokes it when the dictatorial North Korean government misbehaves. Virtually no food aid has been delivered since early 2009, according to the Congressional Research Service.
President Barack Obama's administration agreed to resume food assistance in February in the hope that the country's new leader would be a more conciliatory negotiator than his father was. But when Kim Jong Un attempted to test-launch a long-range missile in April in defiance of international condemnation, the U.S. withdrew its offer. The rocket launch failed, but Western powers remain wary of Kim Jong Un's regime.
Amid this tension, the public appearance of Winnie the Pooh and other Western cartoon characters is certainly strange. Kim Jong Un may yet live up to his father's brutal legacy -- but, for the time being at least, this odd young leader can't seem to keep his hands out of the honey jar.