N. Korea plays event as a coup for propaganda
PYONGYANG, North Korea — The news on television and the front page of the ruling Workers’ Party newspaper was something North Koreans never would have imagined just months ago — their leader, Kim Jong Un, warmly shaking hands with President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, a day after the meeting between Kim and Trump in Singapore, North Korea’s state media were filled with images of its beaming leader standing as an equal on the international stage with the president of the most powerful country in the world — a reminder of just how much of a propaganda coup the North saw in Tuesday’s unprecedented summit.
Dubbing it the start of a new relationship between their countries, which are still technically at war, Pyongyang’s first reports Wednesday stressed to North Koreans that Trump agreed to Kim’s demand to halt joint military exercises with South Korea as long as talks toward easing tensions continue. They also suggested that Trump said he would lift sanctions as negotiations progressed.
Late Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rebutted the claim, saying the U.S. will not ease sanctions until the North denuclearizes.
The media message to the masses was clear: This is a big
success for Kim — known in the North as the Marshal — and the result of his wise leadership.
Kim Kyong Sun, who watched the news on a screen outside Pyongyang’s main train station, said she felt a “radical change” was underway in her country’s relationship with the United States, which she said has been a hostile nation. But she quickly added: “As long as we have our Marshal, the future of our country will be bright.”
Kim Jong Un framed the switch as a natural next step, now that he has what he stresses is a credible and viable nuclear arsenal capable of keeping the U.S. at bay. The framing that he went into the summit as an equal and from a position of strength is crucial within North Korea, after enduring years of tough sanctions while it pursued its nuclear ambitions.
Kim’s pledge to denuclearize were reported by state media Wednesday within that context — that Pyongyang would respond to easing of what it sees as hostile U.S. policy with commensurate but gradual moves toward “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
“Kim Jong Un and Trump had the shared recognition to the effect that it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” North Korean media reported.
That doesn’t seem to pin the North down to the concrete and unilateral measures Trump said he would demand going into the talks. It’s also unclear what significant changes could occur now that they seem to be moving toward more peaceful relations. Both sides promised to push the process forward quickly.
Interestingly, the North made no secret of China’s behind-the-scenes presence at the summit. A flurry of media coverage the day Kim arrived in Singapore showed him waving from the door of the chartered Air China flight that brought him from Pyongyang.
That is another key to what lies ahead. Kim’s biggest task in the months ahead will most likely be to try to push China, his country’s key trading partner, to lift its sanctions and to entice South Korea to start once again offering crucial investment in joint ventures and infrastructure projects.
No place has more at stake with the outreach to Kim than South Korea. Yet so much has happened so quickly that arguments and viewpoints of just last week suddenly seem old.
Now, South Koreans are trying to decide how they feel about onceunimaginable changes, among them the apparent halt of U.S.-South Korean military exercises and the direct line to the White House that Kim now possibly enjoys.
The rival Koreas held rare high-level military talks Thursday to discuss reducing tensions across their heavily fortified border. Seoul’s Defense Ministry said the military talks will focus on carrying out agreements from a summit between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in where they vowed to take materialized steps to reduce military tensions and eliminate the danger of war. It’s possible North Korean officials during the talks at the border village of Panmunjom will seek a firm commitment from the South on stopping its military drills with the United States.
Some pro-military South Koreans feel deeply betrayed by Trump’s surprise announcement about suspending joint armed forces drills, which have been the most vivid display of the U.S.-South Korea alliance since the Korean War.
Rights activists complain that Moon and Trump are letting the North off the hook over its atrocious record of abuses and repression.
A top government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said officials in Seoul were still trying to figure out if Trump’s reference to “war games” really meant all the drills, whose biggest maneuvers can include more than 300,000 U.S. and South Korean soldiers and others.
North Koreans read a newspaper reporting on the summit. The media message to the masses was clear: It was a big success for leader Kim Jong Un and came about as a result of his wise leadership.