Being young and educated under a Western system, it was hoped that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would be less belligerent and more approachable than his father Kim Jong-il.
The young Kim, however, has proved to be as astute as his late father in brinkmanship. The question gaining more urgency these days is how to assess what is mere rhetoric and what Kim may actually do.
"With the North revamping unease everyday with warlike rhetoric, tensions are very high on the Korean Peninsula. But the consensus is that the primary target audience of the tough talks is North Koreans," said a Seoul analyst who asked not to be named.
"Kim seemingly wants to maximize the sense of impending crisis through recent provocative activities. Having standoffs with outsiders is a good way to reduce internal conflict."
The analyst expected Kim's campaign to reach a crescendo this week ahead of the April 15 anniversary of the birth of his grandfather and North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung, the most significant holiday in the totalitarian nation.
Chang Yong-seok, a researcher at the Seoul National University-affiliated Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, said Kim's recent maneuvers were well-calculated moves aimed at laying the groundwork for his "kingdom."
"At the age of around 30, he can control North Korea for around half a century unless the regime collapses. What he has done is to pave the way for his control through the mid-21st century," Chang said.
"In addition to his commitment to nuclear arms, Kim has focused on law enforcement, educational reform and economic development. The projects all have something to do with long-term perspectives."
Chang added that the "Jasmine Revolution" in the Arab world in 2010, when Kim was still an heir to power, taught him a lesson, as a host of long-reigning Arabic strongmen and their families were ousted or executed.
"It seems Kim believes that Libya's leadership suffered after it gave up nuclear weapons in the early 2000s. That's why he is sticking to nuclear arms as a means of survival," he said.
Analysts said Kim needs to unite his people behind him and the heightening tension is leverage he uses to secure support from the public.
"Kim is apparently concerned about how to prevent popular uprisings such as in the Arab world and the answer is to feed his people in better ways. The educational and economic campaigns are geared toward achieving that goal," one analyst said.
Prof. Yoo Ho-yeol, director and professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University, agreed that, by ratcheting up tension, Kim may strengthen his grip on power through internal control and seek external acknowledgement as a full-fledged nuclear power.
Prof. Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies presented a different view.
"Basically, Kim inherited the trick of hard-line brinkmanship from his father. But, unlike his father, who was good at geopolitical calculations, Kim seems to be more or less single-minded in his political maneuvers," he said.
"As the two sides continue their game of chicken, a mediator is crucial. In the past, the North's benefactor China played that role but it isn't any more. This generates great concern about the young and inexperienced North Korean leader."