North Korea leader impressed with South’s delegation welcome

North Korea leader impressed with South\'s delegation welcome
Blue House not ready to commit to sending special envoy to North Korea
nIn a report on Tuesday, North Korea’s state media indicated that leader Kim Jong-un was delighted with the outcome of his country’s attendance at the Winter Olympics.

Accompanying the report was an unusually relaxed picture of Mr Kim with his sister and the head of state. As analyst Michael Madden explains, a lot can be read into such pictures from the secretive state.

On Saturday, Ms Kim handed over a letter from her brother to President Moon, inviting him to visit Pyongyang. If the summit goes ahead, it will be the first meeting in more than a decade between Korean leaders.

Blue House not ready to commit to sending special envoy to North Korea

As far as Kim Jong-un’s commemorative photo sessions go, this projects a fairly relaxed image of top officials.

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Commemorative photographs taken during his on-site visits and military field inspections usually involve carefully selected North Korean citizens, and the photo moment might be the only occasion where they will meet the Supreme Leader, let alone be in close proximity to him.

You could almost feel the ripple of excitement as Kim Yo-jong walked into the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games. Necks craned and mobile phones were held aloft to catch a glimpse.

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So we tend to see North Korean workers or soldiers crying, gesticulating in reverence and, when posing for the photograph, standing statue still and giving sombre expressions.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Mr Pence told the Post.

These photographs are then hung up in whatever room has been earmarked at the worksite or military base that has been designated for displaying “revolutionary history”.

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Copies are sometimes distributed to the workers or soldiers in them, and citizens who have participated in multiple commemorative photo sessions with him hang the photos, framed of course, in a prominent and honoured place in their homes.

Kim Yo-jong mesmerised South Korean audiences. As she strode into the presidential palace carrying a handwritten note from her brother, every detail was scrutinised live on television. Her sparkly top, how she wore her hair, each small gesture. The news networks even decided to discuss her freckles, rather than mention that she is on a US blacklist for human rights abuses.
Blue House not ready to commit to sending special envoy to North Korea
Blue House not ready to commit to sending special envoy to North Korea

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Senior officials can sometimes appear tense in these photos. This happens for a number of reasons.

“Key Vulnerability” in North Korea's ICBM Force? What We Can and Can't Learn from a North Korean Military Parade
“Key Vulnerability” in North Korea’s ICBM Force? What We Can and Can’t Learn from a North Korean Military Parade

One, it is a matter of respect for the moment and not wishing to appear frivolous in front of Kim Jong-un, or in state media.

In looks-conscious and skin-care obsessed South Korea, these young North Korean women are held up as examples of natural beauty or innocence and it appears to have prompted a sting of nostalgia in the older generation. One of the group’s most famous members is Ri Sol-ju who joined when she was 16 and eventually became the wife of Kim Jong-un.
“Key Vulnerability” in North Korea's ICBM Force? What We Can and Can't Learn from a North Korean Military Parade
“Key Vulnerability” in North Korea’s ICBM Force? What We Can and Can’t Learn from a North Korean Military Parade

Two, sometimes these senior officials are posing for these photographs in the course of a busy work day.

“When the cheerleaders arrived in South Korea it was raining and Kim Jong-il’s portrait on the main flag got wet. The whole group of cheerleaders were horrified and came out of the bus and gathered around the picture to protect it. South Koreans were quite shocked to see this behaviour because it looked like a religious cult.
“Key Vulnerability” in North Korea's ICBM Force? What We Can and Can't Learn from a North Korean Military Parade
“Key Vulnerability” in North Korea’s ICBM Force? What We Can and Can’t Learn from a North Korean Military Parade

Finally, there is always the chance that Mr Kim’s on-site visit or inspection did not go well, for whatever reason, and they may have been upbraided by the Supreme Leader himself.

Kim Yo-jong has been an exception, because she has been observed to smirk or smile with her eyes – to smize – in these photos, an indication of her personality and authority in North Korean political culture.

(CNN)North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has praised South Korea for its “very impressive” and “sincere” efforts in hosting the North’s high-level delegation during the opening of the Winter Olympics.

However, there is very little tension in Mr Kim’s new photograph with the high-level delegation that had just spent three days in South Korea meeting senior officials, most notably having several interactions with President Moon Jae-in.

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The photo was taken after Mr Kim had received briefings from Kim Yong-nam – the formal North Korean head of state – and Ms Kim, one of his closest aides.

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The meeting room where the photo took place is located in central Pyongyang and is familiar to North Korean citizens as it has been the venue of numerous interactions between senior officials and late leader Kim Jong-il.

Look closely at National Sports and Physical Culture Commission Chairman Choe Hwi and Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country Chairman Ri Son-gwon. They still have their notebooks and pens in their hands.

And despite being seen cheering for the joint-Korean Winter Olympics team and having luncheons with the North Korean delegation, Moon — who has been accused of being swayed by North Korea’s “charm offensive” — has given some indication that he remains wary of North Korea’s motives.

On the one hand, we might view this as a bit of uncertainty. In the event Mr Kim has more instructions or guidance to provide after the shutter stops clicking, they don’t want to risk fumbling around for the notebook.

During this trip, Kim Yo-jong invited Moon to visit North Korea. A potential visit by Moon would be the first meeting of Korean leaders in Pyongyang since then-South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for an inter-Korean summit in 2007.

Hiding the notebooks behind their backs and thus clasping their hands in the Supreme Leader’s presence would be interpreted as highly disrespectful.

On the other hand, there could be a degree of spontaneity. Perhaps, meeting done, the photo session was impromptu and Mr Choe and Mr Ri did not have time to put their notebooks down.

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We don’t know if the meeting was lubricated with wine toasts or liquors. Choe Hwi is relaxed and bemused, while Ri Son-gwon (being a former military intelligence officer) almost cracks a smile, in contrast to the fairly tense expression he wore throughout the weekend in the South.

Closer to Mr Kim, we find Kim Yong-nam holding hands with the North Korean leader.

There is an act of respect and deference on Kim Jong-un’s part as he is the one holding Kim Yong-nam’s arm.

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On Kim Jong-un’s other side, again in an act of respect, Kim Yo-jong clutches her brother’s arm, like other officials that are subordinate to him. The Supreme Leader, when we look closely at his face, is amused at the whole scene. There is a subtle transparency here.

The recently released photograph is also reminiscent of an old photo showing Mr Kim’s aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, with her arm around Kim ll-Sung.

During the Sunshine Period between 1998 and 2008, when the South tried to build a closer relationship with the North, many senior North Korean officials went to the South and returned to brief Kim Jong-il. But these meetings were seldom, if ever, reported in real time.

There have been previous photos showing affection between members of the Kim family and certainly photos of senior North Korean officials not looking as if they’re posing for their morgue shots. Mr Kim was last year even pictured giving someone a piggyback.

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Kim Jong-un has also held the arms or hands of elder senior officials and even civilians before; in Korean culture this is a sign of friendship and respect.

The recently released photo is intended to show the more relaxed, freewheeling aspects of the North’s top leadership. It softens some of the sharp edges and shows a youthful leader so confident in his role and position in the regime that he is ready to deal with the South.

Michael Madden is Visiting Scholar of the US Korea Institute at SAIS-Johns Hopkins University and Director of NK Leadership Watch, an affiliate of 38 North.

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