World shouldn't underestimate Kim Jong Un, says Kiwi journalist who's visited North Korea multiple times

The world would be wrong to underestimate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, says Beijing bureau chief for The Washington Post Anna Fifield. 

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Beijing’s Washington Post bureau chief has written a book on North Korea. Source: Q+A

On TVNZ1's Q+A, the New Zealand journalist and author of The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong Un, spoke about her coverage of North Korea. 

She began visiting North Korea in 2005, entering 12 times.

"It's such a fascinating place, both as a journalist, it's such a reporting challenge to try to figure out what is the real truth there because you certainly don't see the real truth of North Korea when you go on these Government organised trips.

"But also just as a human being to think how has this country managed to survive all these decades? North Korea has maintained this socialist paradise, as they would describe themselves," she said. 

Under Kim Jong Un, Ms Fifield said the people in Pyongyang, "live a relatively good life, by North Korean standards". 

"They are the people considered the most loyal to the regime, they are the people who keep the Kim's in power. Kim Jong Un in particular had made a lot of effort to keep those people happy." 

"They are richer than ever before, they are more corrupt than ever before. These young Millennials in Pyongyang, they can do yoga classes and buy cappuccino, all of these things that were unimaginable a decade ago.

However, that was not an ordinary life in North Korea, she said.

"If you're on of the 99 per cent who lives outside of this elite, little bubble, your life still remains quite desperate. Many people have no electricity, no running water, they are the people who are going to be hit the most by food shortages, which we're hearing about."

"For them, life remains terrible, but under Kim Jong Un it is slightly less terrible than 5-10 years ago, and that's not because of anything Kim Jong Un has done, but rather because they have allowed more marketisation, more private markets to operate in North Korea.

"These North Koreans are earning their own way to a better living."

Watch Anna Fifield's full interview below. 

Q+A is on TVNZ1 on Mondays at 9.30pm, and the episode is then available on TVNZ OnDemand and as a podcast in all the usual places.