Ri’s noodle barb didn’t overshadow welcome: Blue House

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Ri’s noodle barb didn’t overshadow welcome: Blue House

A senior North Korean official’s insulting remark to South Korean business chiefs during a luncheon in September did “not overshadow” the overwhelming welcome South Korean President Moon Jae-in received from North Koreans during his visit to Pyongyang, the Blue House said Monday.

Kim Eui-kyeom, spokesman for the Blue House, also noted that the remark by Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, which handles inter-Korean relations, had not fully been substantiated, an apparent effort to quell any controversy.

Ri, who hails from the military, is known for his hard-line stance when dealing with South Korean officials.

“When the overall context of remarks are absent, their meaning could be interpreted in a dramatically different way,” Kim said. “Sometimes [interpretation without the context] could turn compliment into criticism and criticism into compliment. As of now, we do not have clear facts about Ri’s alleged remark.

“Even if [Ri’s] manners and culture are a bit different from ours, I don’t think it overshadowed the overwhelming welcome President Moon received during his visit to Pyongyang,” continued Kim, referring to the president’s three-day trip to the North Korean capital in September for his third summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

It was revealed during a parliamentary audit in late October that Ri had scolded South Korean business tycoons who accompanied Moon as part of his delegation to Pyongyang in September. Over a lunch with the tycoons, including executives of Samsung, SK and LG, Ri asked, “Do the cold noodles go down your throat?”

In Korean, the expression is a way of scolding someone for being too comfortable. The South Korean delegation at the time was eating a bowl of Pyongyang-style naengmyeon (cold noodles) at the famed Okryu Restaurant.

Ri is thought to have made the remark to register his discontent over the slow pace of inter-Korean business cooperation by business groups since the April 27 inter-Korean agreement due to economic sanctions on the North.

Ri was also revealed to have poked fun at Democratic Party (DP) Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon’s physique during an inter-Korean event in Pyongyang last month, according to participants in the event.

“Those with a pot belly should not be entrusted with a budget,” Ri was quoted by participants as saying after an official of the ruling Democratic Party introduced Kim as the DP official managing the government’s budget at a dinner in Pyongyang on Oct. 5.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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