No mis­siles but bal­let as Kim puts on a cul­tural show

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

SEOUL: Kim Jong-un hob­nobbed with a vis­it­ing Chi­nese bal­let troupe as he capped a week­end of cel­e­bra­tions in the North Korean cap­i­tal that con­spic­u­ously lacked a show of mil­i­tary might that marked many pre­vi­ous fes­ti­vals.

The fes­tiv­i­ties sur­rounded the April 15 “The Day of the Sun”, the an­niver­sary of the birth of the founder of North Korea and the Kim dy­nasty, Kim Il-sung, in 1912.

On last year’s Day of the Sun, Mr Kim put on a mil­i­tary pa­rade bristling with his lat­est bal­lis­tic mis­siles, ex­ac­er­bat­ing in­ter­na­tional ten­sion over his nu­clear weapon and mis­sile pro­grammes.

Past fes­ti­vals also fea­tured var­i­ous cul­tural and eco­nomic dis­plays, but the ab­sence of mil­i­tary over­tones this year was more in line with a mes­sage of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion that Mr Kim has sought to cul­ti­vate in re­cent months as he made his first visit to neigh­bour­ing China and an­nounced plans to talk with the lead­ers of South Korea and the United States.

Pho­tos re­leased by state me­dia, as well as by tour com­pa­nies that brought for­eign tourists in for the hol­i­day and a Spring Friend­ship Art Fes­ti­val, showed no weapons but in­stead a week­end of per­for­mances, fire­works, danc­ing and sports.

In pic­tures re­leased by state me­dia from a bal­let per­for­mance late on Mon­day, Mr Kim and his wife, Ri Sol-ju, were seen ap­plaud­ing, pos­ing with dancers, and laugh­ing with the head of the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party’s in­ter­na­tional li­ai­son depart­ment, Song Tao.

Mr Song led a Chi­nese troupe to North Korea for the fes­ti­val.

Mr Kim, in a meet­ing with Mr Song on Sun­day, said he was per­son­ally meet­ing the vis­it­ing per­form­ers out of re­spect for Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and said he wanted to launch a “fresh phase of de­vel­op­ment” of re­la­tions be­tween their coun­tries.

North Korea’s ties with China, its sole ma­jor ally, had be­come strained over the past cou­ple of years over the North’s

con­tentious mis­sile and nu­clear tests, which China dis­ap­proves of.

But in late March, Mr Kim made a visit to Bei­jing, his first known jour­ney abroad since he took power in 2011.

The visit came amid a flurry of diplo­matic ef­forts by the North, start­ing a New Year speech in which Mr Kim opened the door to par­tic­i­pat­ing in Fe­bru­ary’s Win­ter Olympics in South Korea.

On April 27, Mr Kim is sched­uled to make his­tory when he meets South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in at a sum­mit just in­side South Korean ter­ri­tory on the for­ti­fied bor­der that di­vides the two coun­tries. He will be the first North Korean leader to step on South Korean soil since the 1950s.

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said he plans to meet Mr Kim in May or early June.

Amer­i­can of­fi­cials are still scep­ti­cal of Mr Kim’s sud­den over­tures, with Mr Trump’s pick for sec­re­tary of state, CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo, telling law­mak­ers last week that North Korea should not ex­pect re­wards from talks with the United States un­til it takes ir­re­versible steps to give up its nu­clear weapons.

South Korea and a US-led UN force are tech­ni­cally still at war with North Korea af­ter the 1950-53 Korean con­flict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

South Korea’s Mun­hwa Ilbo news­pa­per re­ported yes­ter­day that the two sides had been dis­cussing plans for a per­ma­nent end to the war at the North-South sum­mit, cit­ing an uniden­ti­fied South Korean of­fi­cial with knowl­edge of the mat­ter. They may also dis­cuss pulling some forces away from the de­mil­i­tarised zone sep­a­rat­ing them, the news­pa­per said.

AP

Mem­bers of a vis­it­ing Chi­nese bal­let troupe pose for a pho­to­graph with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Py­ongyang, North Korea.

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