Af­ter sum­mit, Pyongyang starts show­ing U.S. pres­i­dent in a dif­fer­ent light

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD - By Eric Talmadge

PYONGYANG: North Kore­ans are get­ting a new look at U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

They see him shak­ing hands with Kim Jong Un at their his­toric sum­mit in Sin­ga­pore and even awk­wardly sa­lut­ing a three-star gen­eral.

It’s a far cry from the “dotard” la­bel their govern­ment slapped on him last year.

Pre­vi­ously, even on a good day, the best he might get was “Trump.” No hon­orifics. No signs of re­spect.

Now, he’s be­ing called “the pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica.” Or “Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump.” Even “supreme leader.”

The post-sum­mit trans­for­ma­tion of North Korea’s official ver­sion of Trump, who’s now be­ing shown by state me­dia look­ing se­ri­ous and al­most re­gal, un­der­scores the care­fully chore­ographed re­al­ity show the govern­ment has had to per­form to keep its peo­ple, taught from child­hood to hate and dis­trust the “Amer­i­can im­pe­ri­al­ists,” ide­o­log­i­cally on board with the tec­tonic shifts un­der­way in their coun­try’s re­la­tion­ship with Wash­ing­ton.

With a time lag that sug­gests a great deal of care and thought went into the fi­nal prod­uct, the North’s state-run tele­vi­sion aired its first videos and photos of the sum­mit Thurs­day, two days af­ter the event and a full day af­ter Kim re­turned home to Pyongyang, the cap­i­tal.

To be sure, the star of the show was Kim. Trump’s first appearance and the now fa­mous hand­shake didn’t come un­til al­most 20 min­utes into the 42-minute pro­gram.

To the dra­matic, al­most song­like in­to­na­tions of the na­tion’s most fa­mous news­caster, the pro­gram de­picted Kim as states­man­like be­yond his years, con­fi­dent and po­lite, quick to smile and firmly in con­trol. He was shown al­low­ing the older Amer­i­can – Trump, in his 70s, is more than twice Kim’s age – to lean in to­ward him to shake hands, or give a thumbs-up, then walking a few steps ahead to a work­ing lunch.

The pro­gram also showed an awk­ward mo­ment of Trump reach­ing out to shake the hand of a North Korean gen­eral, Peo­ple’s Armed Forces Min­is­ter No Kwang Chol, who in­stead saluted the U.S. pres­i­dent. Trump saluted the of­fi­cer in re­turn, and the two then shook hands.

In another scene, he moved a chair with his foot in­stead of his hands. Both elicited gig­gles from North Kore­ans watch­ing the pro­gram.

Be­fore show­ing Trump and Kim sign­ing their joint state­ment, the news­caster said Trump made a point of giv­ing Kim a look at his ar­mored Cadillac limou­sine and noted that it is known to Amer­i­cans as “the Beast.” She also at one point called them the “two supreme lead­ers” of their coun­tries.

The im­age-heavy news of Kim’s trip to Sin­ga­pore was pre­sented like a chrono­log­i­cal doc­u­men­tary, start­ing with the red-car­pet send-off at the Pyongyang air­port on, in­ter­est­ingly enough, a char­tered Air China flight. That was fol­lowed by video of his mo­tor­cade mak­ing its way to the St. Regis Ho­tel in Sin­ga­pore as throngs of well-wish­ers waved as though await­ing a rock star, and Kim’s night tour of the city-state on the sum­mit’s eve.

The state me­dia’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the sum­mit and Trump is ex­tremely im­por­tant be­cause it gives the North Korean pop­u­la­tion, which has only lim­ited ac­cess to other news sources, an idea not just of what’s go­ing on but also of how the govern­ment ex­pects them to re­spond.

For the av­er­age North Korean, the state me­dia’s cov­er­age of Kim’s diplo­matic blitz this year must seem noth­ing short of as­ton­ish­ing.

Af­ter send­ing a top-level del­e­ga­tion that in­cluded his own sis­ter to the Win­ter Olympics in South Korea in Fe­bru­ary, Kim has met twice each with South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, and the state me­dia have splashed all of the meet­ings across its front pages and news­casts – though gen­er­ally a day af­ter the fact to al­low time to make sure the ide­o­log­i­cal tone is right and the im­ages as pow­er­ful as pos­si­ble.

In the run-up to the sum­mit, the North’s me­dia soft­ened its rhetoric so as not to spoil the at­mos­phere as Kim pre­pared to sit down with the leader of the coun­try North Korea has ma­ligned and lam­basted for decades as the most evil place on Earth, other than per­haps Ja­pan, its for­mer colo­nial ruler.

It fired a few bar­rages against hard-line com­ments by U.S. Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser John Bolton and has stood ever-crit­i­cal of “cap­i­tal­ist val­ues,” but has kept di­rect ref­er­ences to Trump to a min­i­mum.

Bolton, who has been a tar­get of Pyongyang’s ire since his ser­vice in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, was in­tro­duced in the Thurs­day pro­gram dead­pan and shown shak­ing Kim’s hand.

What this all means for the fu­ture is a com­pli­cated mat­ter.

North Korea has pre­sented Kim’s diplo­matic strat­egy as a log­i­cal next step fol­low­ing what he has said is the com­ple­tion of his plan to de­velop a cred­i­ble nu­clear de­ter­rent to what Pyongyang has long claimed is a pol­icy of hos­til­ity and “nu­clear black­mail” by Wash­ing­ton.

That was its mes­sage through the news Thurs­day, which stressed that the talks with Trump would be fo­cused on forg­ing a re­la­tion­ship that is more in tune with what it called chang­ing times – most likely mean­ing North Korea’s new sta­tus as a nu­clear weapons state – and its de­sire for a mech­a­nism to en­sure a last­ing peace on the Korean Penin­sula and, fi­nally, de­nu­cle­ariza­tion.

De­spite the re­spect­ful tone, how­ever, there re­mains a clear un­der­cur­rent of cau­tion.

Kim re­mains the hero in the official Pyongyang nar­ra­tive.

Whether Trump will be his costar, or once again the vil­lain, is fod­der for another episode.

De­spite the re­spect­ful tone, there is a clear un­der­cur­rent of cau­tion

At a news­stand on a sub­way plat­form of the Pyongyang metro, a con­duc­tor reads the Rodong Sin­mun news­pa­per show­ing im­ages of Kim meet­ing with Trump.

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