With unusual fanfare, North touts leader’s trip abroad

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With unusual fanfare, North touts leader’s trip abroad

North Korea’s state media on Monday trumpeted North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s arrival in Singapore for a historic summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, breaking from the usual practice of only reporting the leader’s foreign visits after his return home.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) ran three reports on Kim’s trip to Singapore, while the state newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, published articles on the first and second pages of its Monday edition with 16 photos.

Some pictures vividly showed Kim boarding a plane on Sunday with Air China’s logo and the Chinese national flag emblazoned on the side, an unusual editorial call for a country that goes to lengths to protect its geopolitical image.

“North Korea is a country that would rather go hungry than give up its pride,” a former South Korean intelligence official said. “The fact that it acknowledged borrowing a plane from China for the foreign trip is a message that it had China’s back, and a sign that it chose practical interests over cause.”

Jung Chang-hyun, a North Korea expert who leads a modern history research institute in the South, said Pyongyang’s decision to report on Kim’s trip to Singapore even before the summit began was a move to pressure the United States. It also had the effect of expressing hope for the two leaders’ meeting while telling the North Korean people that their government was confident in striking a deal that would benefit their lives.

“The utmost priority for North Korea is their leader’s safety,” Jung said. “Up until Monday, North Korean media had always stuck to the rule of reporting on the leader’s foreign travels after he was safely back home, out of fear that any early reports might put him in danger.”

Regarding the summit between Kim and Trump, the KCNA did not shy away from saying that both countries were set to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but it only mentioned the subject later, after the improvement of bilateral ties and creation of a peace arrangement on the peninsula.

“Wide-ranging and profound views on the issue of establishing new DPRK-U.S. relations,” an English version of a KCNA article read, using the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, “the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean Peninsula, the issue of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern, as required by the changed era, will be exchanged at the DPRK-U.S. summit talks to be held for the first time in history amid the great attention and expectation of the world.”

The article specifically noted that Kim departed Pyongyang International Airport on a “Chinese plane for his personal use” on Sunday morning and planned to hold talks with Trump today in Singapore.

In a separate article, the KCNA reported that Kim arrived at the city’s Changi International Airport at 3 p.m. on Sunday and was greeted by the country’s foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, and other officials.

Another article reported on Kim’s meeting with Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and said they discussed the improvement of bilateral ties.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]
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