INTER-KOREA SUMMIT/REALITY ON THE GROUND

Kim 'no longer a hermit' as he smiles and jokes

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Joint Security Area on the Demilitarised Zone in the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, on April 27, 2018.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Joint Security Area on the Demilitarised Zone in the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, on April 27, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL • A day after the historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In, the dramatic images and sweeping declaration of goodwill were hailed by media on both sides of the demilitarised zone.

South Korean media were replaying striking scenes of the two leaders while those in the North saw the first footage of the summit on state television.

North Korean state media highlighted the broad themes of peace, prosperity, and Korean unity, and did not go into specifics of the discussions. State news agency KCNA called the summit a turning point for the Korean peninsula.

"At the talks both sides had a candid and open-hearted exchange of views on the matters of mutual concern including the issues of improving the north-south relations, ensuring peace on the Korean peninsula and the denuclearisation of the peninsula," KCNA said, reporting that the night ended with a dinner that had an "amicable atmosphere overflowing with feelings of blood relatives".

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the mouthpiece of the North's ruling Workers' Party, devoted the first four of its six pages to the event, carrying a total of 60 photos, 15 of them on page one.

Professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul said the breadth of coverage was a signal that the North was "sincere in its commitment".

JUST HUMAN

I heard Kim Jong Un making a joke and hearing that made me realise that he is also just a human being.

'' SOUTH KOREAN CHOI HYUN AH, a 24-year-old events planner.

"It is also another signal to Washington in the lead up to the US-North Korea summit that the ball is in your court now," he said.

Many South Koreans pored over every detail of the summit, transfixed by Mr Kim's extraordinary charm offensive.

His public appearance at the summit, beamed live to millions in the South, was for many the first prolonged exposure to an authoritarian figure revered in his secretive nation but shrouded in mystery.

South Koreans and the world have long viewed him with a mixture of ridicule and fear, becoming used to the sight of him presiding over missile launches and military parades.

But it was a very different Mr Kim on the world stage on Friday. The 30-something leader smiled often, made humorous remarks and patted children tenderly.

"I heard Kim Jong Un making a joke and hearing that made me realise that he is also just a human being," said events planner Choi Hyun Ah, 24.

Mr Kim showed a few brief moments of human fallibility, appearing slightly out of breath at times and missing the soil when trying to plant his shovel during a tree-planting ceremony.

The reclusive North "deifies Kim in a strict, scripted and controlled manner", noted the Korea Times, but "everything about him - including his facial expressions, walk, gesture, voice, black Mao suit and signature hairstyle - was streamed live by global media outlets".

Mr Kim was "no longer a hermit", the paper said in the headline of its editorial, adding that he had shown himself capable of "showmanship" with his impromptu invitation to Mr Moon to hop briefly over the border to the North himself.

The Korea Herald examined Mr Kim's inscription in a guestbook to analyse his handwriting. A graphologist pronounced he has a "feisty and self-centred personality", and was "excited and highly elated when he wrote the message".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline 'Kim 'no longer a hermit' as he smiles and jokes'. Print Edition | Subscribe