Thursday 13 December 2018

North Korea basks in Kim’s summit performance

State-run media saw a major propaganda coup in Tuesday’s unprecedented meeting with Donald Trump.

Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump shake hands (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump shake hands (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

By Eric Talmadge

The photos on the front page of the ruling workers’ party newspaper showed something North Koreans never would have imagined months ago — their leader Kim Jong Un warmly shaking hands with Donald Trump.

The priority treatment of what even Pyongyang is calling the “historic” meeting between in Singapore underscores 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 stressed to the North Korean people that the US president agreed to Mr Kim’s demand to halt joint military exercises with South Korea, as long as talks towards easing tensions continue, and suggested that Mr Trump also said he would lift sanctions as negotiations progressed.

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Pyongyang residents look at a display of newspaper reporting from the Singapore summit (Minoru Iwasaki/Kyodo News/AP)

“President Trump appreciated that an atmosphere of peace and stability was created on the Korean peninsula and in the region, although distressed with the extreme danger of armed clash only a few months ago, thanks to the proactive peace-loving measures taken by the respected Supreme Leader from the outset of this year,” said a summary of the summit by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The summit capped a swift and astonishing turn of events that began on New Year’s Day with a pledge by Mr Kim to reach out to the world now his nuclear forces had been completed.

His focus on diplomacy, including earlier meetings with the leaders of China and South Korea, is a sharp contrast with his rapid-fire testing of long-range missiles and the fiery exchanges of threats and insults last year that created real fears of a war on the Korean peninsula.

Mr Kim has framed the switch as a natural next step now he has what he stresses is a credible and viable nuclear arsenal capable of keeping the US at bay.

The framing that he went into the summit as an equal and from a position of strength is crucial in North Korea, after enduring years of tough sanctions while it pursued its nuclear ambitions.

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People in Pyongyang watch a screen reporting Kim Jong Un ‘s late-night tour of Singapore (Minoru Iwasaki/Kyodo News/AP)

Mr Kim’s vows to denuclearise were reported by state media within that context — that Pyongyang would respond to the easing of what it sees as the hostile US policy with commensurate but gradual moves toward “the complete denuclearisation 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 denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula,” KCNA reported.

That does not seem to pin the North down to the concrete and unilateral measures Mr Trump said he would demand going into the talks and it remains to be seen what significant changes could occur now they seem to be moving towards more peaceful relations.

Both sides promised to push the process forward quickly, and the pair exchanged invitations to visit their nations’ capitals.

The North made no secret of China’s behind-the-scenes presence at the summit. A flurry of media coverage the day Mr Kim arrived in Singapore showed him waving from the door of the specially chartered Air China flight that flew him from Pyongyang.

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Kim Jong Un arrives in Singapore on a Air China plane (Ministry of Communications and Information of Singapore/AP)

That is another key to what lies ahead.

Mr 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 resume crucial investment in joint ventures and infrastructure projects.

In the meantime, the North appears to be basking in its leader’s newfound status as the most popular kid on the block.

“Singapore, the country of the epoch-making meeting much awaited by the whole world, was awash with thousands of domestic and foreign journalists and a large crowd of masses to see this day’s moment which will remain long in history,” KCNA noted.

Press Association

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