Thursday 16 August 2018

Live and unfiltered: Kim Jong Un captivates South Koreans

Major television networks cancelled their usual programming for wall-to-wall coverage of the summit with President Moon Jae-in.

Koreas Summit
Koreas Summit

By Youkyung Lee

South Koreans watched as history unfolded and Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader they normally only see in heavily edited footage, walked across the border and had his every word broadcast live and unfiltered on airwaves across the country.

From train platforms to tech forums, South Koreans took a pause from their normal routines to get a glimpse of Mr Kim as he became the first leader from Pyongyang to visit South Korean territory.

Major television networks cancelled their usual programming for wall-to-wall coverage of the inter-Korean summit with President Moon Jae-in.

“I can’t believe I’m listening to the voice of Kim Jong Un. Someone I have only seen as a jpeg is speaking now,” South Korean Lee Yeon-su wrote on Twitter.

It is a dramatic change for South Koreans, who under the National Security Act are banned on threat of jail from accessing media considered pro-North Korean.

Websites for the North’s official Korean Central News agency and Rodong Shinmun newspaper, which regularly publish propaganda images of Mr Kim, are blocked in South Korea.

South Koreans used the rare opportunity of seeing raw footage of him to speculate on everything from his speech habits to his health. Some even said they found him cute.

“Most South Koreans probably heard his voice for the first time. I found his way of speaking friendly, like a guy living next door,” said Ryu Seok-woo, a reporter at a local news outlet.

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Mr Kim delivers his speech

Some noted that the reclusive leader, who rules his country unquestioned, seemed to drone on and on in his first speech. They speculated that he had never been stopped or interrupted when speaking before.

There was a moment many South Koreans noted when he made an off-the-cuff comment about naengmyeon, cold buckwheat noodles that are a North Korean delicacy popular among South Koreans and are to be served at the summit’s dinner meeting.

“Pyongyang naengmyeon that came from afar. Ah, I shouldn’t say it’s from afar,” he said before the two leaders started their morning meeting.

He appeared to be making a joke about the distance between the two countries. The remarks, which did not seem to fit with the intimidating image most South Koreans have of Mr Kim, went viral on social media as people shared them in disbelief and even suggested he has a future in comedy.

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The two leaders share a joke

“I thought he had a sense of humour. He’s certainly different from his father’s generation,” said Lee Seung-won, an office worker. “I thought I would never see such scene before I die.”

As Mr Kim walked a few hundred metres from the border and climbed stairs to the Peace House where the summit was taking place, some South Koreans questioned whether the heavyset young leader was physically struggling.

When he was leaving a message in the guest book, his shoulders appeared to be moving up and down as if he was panting.

“He probably doesn’t walk a lot and seemed to be having a hard time,” Cho Jin-joo said, noting that such a common struggle made him seem real. “Before I found him intimidating on the news but today I felt like he was much more human,” she said.

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Mr Kim signs a guest book watched by Mr Moon

Some were sympathetic to Mr Kim.

“Ah, Kim Jong Un panting hard after walking that much. It strikes a chord with people who don’t like walking,” Kim Somi said in a tweet.

Between Mr Kim’s jokes and big smiles, some on social media and elsewhere said the rival leader looked cute.

“He was so different from what I saw on the news in the past. He looked friendly. I thought he looked like a teddy bear,” said office worker Yang Hae-ra, who watched the footage live on her phone.

Such comments raised the ire of others on social media, who thought it distracted from the fact that Mr Kim is an authoritarian leader.

Press Association

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