What people in South Korea think about Kim Jong Un

South Koreans' responses to media exposure of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ranged from skepticism to amusement and surprise.
South Koreans' responses to media exposure of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ranged from skepticism to amusement and surprise.PHOTO: THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Amid an ongoing series of diplomatic moves, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appears to be lifting the veil that has surrounded him and the North Korean regime long before he took over as the country's leader in 2012.

South Koreans' responses to media exposure of Kim, in particular the historic April 27 inter-Korean summit held in the border village of Panmunjom, ranged from skepticism to amusement and surprise.

During the daylong summit, South Koreans were able to witness, via live broadcast, sides of the North Korean dictator they had never seen before.

Kim smiled as he shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae In, attentively leaned in as Moon talked at length, joked over the North's regional specialty food and introduced his wife Ri Sol Ju to South Korean officials.

"It felt like he does have a softer side," said Choi Je Sook, 64. "I had previously thought he was an ignorant and belligerent person with no principles. But seeing him on TV, I thought he seemed unexpectedly soft. He seemed like someone with tolerance."

Others were more wary. Kim Na Hyun, 21, was amused by Kim Jong Un's jovial manner and his joke on bringing Pyeongyang naengmyeon, or North Korean-style cold noodles, to Panmunjom.

"It was funny, but that was it," she said. "It didn't make me believe that he was actually a good person."

Moon Jin Kyu, 38, said that the summit achieved significant success in covering up a lot of the "negative perceptions" and antipathy that South Koreans had harbored toward the unpredictable Northern leader.

 
 

Peter Daley, who teaches English at a women's university in Seoul and has experience teaching North Korean refugee students, believes that the personality of Kim Jong Un largely remains a mystery.

"How much of it was for show? How much of it was planned? How much of it was him just … being himself?"

However, the North Korean leader's personal image should not be seen separately from the alleged atrocities in the country.

"(The new image) doesn't negate in any way, shape or form the allegations against (the North Korean regime) in terms of human rights," Daley added.