Kim Jong Un rides a horse during snowfall in Mount Paektu on Wednesday. Reuters
North Korea released a series of photos on Wednesday showing leader Kim Jong Un riding a white horse to a sacred mountain he has often climbed before making key decisions.
Near the mountain, Kim reportedly vowed to overcome US-led sanctions that he said had both pained and infuriated his people.
The images and Kim's rhetoric appeared aimed at bolstering his leadership at home as the North tries to pressure the United States into making concessions in nuclear diplomacy.
The photos showed a bespectacled Kim wearing a long, light-brown coat and riding on horseback up snow-covered Mount Paektu.
The mountain, the highest point on the Korean Peninsula, is sacred to North Koreans, and both it and the white horse are symbols associated with the Kim family's dynastic rule.
Kim previously visited Mount Paektu before executing his powerful uncle in 2013 and entering into diplomacy with South Korea and the US in 2018.
The photos were released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, days after North Korea's first nuclear talks with the US in more than seven months fell apart.
South Korean media quickly speculated that Kim may be considering a new strategy in his dealings with the US because he's previously demanded that Washington come up with new proposals to salvage the stalemated diplomacy by the end of December.
"He, sitting on the horseback atop Mt Paektu, recollected with deep emotion the road of arduous struggle he covered for the great cause of building the most powerful country with faith and will as firm as Mt Paektu," KCNA said.
North Korean documents say Kim's grandfather and national founder Kim Il Sung had an anti-Japan guerrilla base on Paektu's slopes during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The official biography of Kim Jong Un's father, Kim Jong Il, says the second-generation leader was born on Paektu when a double rainbow filled the skies.
The white horse is also a propaganda symbol for the Kim family, which has ruled North Korea for seven decades with a strong personality cult surrounding family members. State media have occasionally shown Kim, his sister and his father riding white horses.
The symbolism goes back to Kim Il Sung, who according to the North's official narrative rode a white horse while fighting Japanese colonial rulers.
There have been other horse-riding leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was photographed riding a horse bare-chested, and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, who took part in horse races and erected a massive monument featuring his likeness atop a golden horse.
Thursday’s missile tests were the first since Kim and US President Donald Trump agreed to resume nuclear talks during an impromptu meeting last month in the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea.
After shaking hands with Kim over the line that marks where their two countries and their allies fought each other to a standstill in the 1950-53 Korean War, Trump walked for several steps into North Korean territory, before another handshake.
Xi is the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years, after relations between the Cold War era allies deteriorated over Pyongyang's nuclear provocations and Beijing's subsequent backing of UN sanctions.
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