Friday 14 December 2018

Kim pulls off canny PR coup as 'dance' across border and sleep jokes show off softer side

Kim Jong-un, left, and Moon Jae-in cross the border line together. Photo: AP
Kim Jong-un, left, and Moon Jae-in cross the border line together. Photo: AP

Nicola Smith

A year ago he was an international pariah, feared by the world, and accused of pushing the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war, but Kim Jong-un now appears to be on a global charm offensive perfectly stage-managed for the cameras.

Yesterday morning, as he walked towards the border with South Korea, a smiling Kim exuded warmth and an altogether more human side compared to the stern, dictatorial images normally fed through the tightly controlled North Korean state media.

Wearing his trademark black Chairman Mao suit, he at first appeared slightly nervous as he gripped President Moon Jae-in's hand for the first time and stepped over the cracked slab of concrete marking the military demarcation line (MDL), becoming the only North Korean leader to do so.

But with the eyes of the world upon him, the media-savvy millennial immediately shattered the South's meticulously scripted diplomatic pageantry with a seemingly spontaneous invitation to Mr Moon to hop back across.

"When will I be able to come to the North?" asked Mr Moon. "Maybe now is the right time," quipped Kim, grabbing his hand again in a prolonged clasp to guide his initially hesitant southern counterpart back over the divide.

South Koreans were enthralled as the extraordinary scene of their beaming, tactile leaders unfolded. Audible gasps, laughter and clapping broke out among Korean journalists packed into a crowded press room to watch the emotionally charged footage live.

It immediately set the tone for the cheerful and convivial interactions of the morning. But it was a canny move that also subconsciously redressed the balance of power.

He was not only coming to the South, but the South was coming to him.

"Kim Jong-un has played it brilliantly so far. Saying that it was so easy to cross the MDL and pulling President Moon over. It's as if he's taken a course in strategic communications and signalling," said Dr William Choong, a senior fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

Cha Du-Hyeogn, who served as secretary to former South Korean president Lee Myung-bak, described the dance across the border line as "positive", adding "it shows that the MDL can be crossed over by any leader".

The summit is also shaping up to be something of a PR coup for Kim, softening his public image.

Although both men have smiled throughout the publicly broadcasted sections of the summit, it has been Kim who has displayed the most charisma, with off-the-cuff jokes to relax the atmosphere.

As talks began he even verged on teasing the elder statesman about his lack of sleep, promising that he would no longer interrupt the South Korean president's shuteye with early morning missile tests.

However, ahead of the summit, defectors campaigning against ongoing human rights abuses in North Korea warned the world not to be fooled by the carefully staged images coming out of the summit. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News