North Korean state media reported Monday that dictator Kim Jong-un has proposed changing North Korea’s time zone to align with South Korea as it was for decades before Kim chose to move the time up by half an hour as a symbolic gesture against Japan.
During his meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday in Panmunjom, a border town between the Koreas, Kim reportedly decided the time had come to align North and South Korea’s clocks.
“During his visit to the south side area for the historic Third North-South Summit Meeting and Talks,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported, “Kim Jong Un, Supreme Leader of the party, the state and the army of the DPRK, discussed with south [sic – North Korea does not consider South Korea a sovereign state] Korean President Moon Jae In the matter of unifying the standard times of the north and the south.”
The state-run KCNA quoted Kim as saying that “it was a painful wrench to see two clocks indicating Pyongyang and Seoul times hanging on a wall of the summit venue.”
“It is not an abstract meaning that the north and the south become one but it is just a process in which the north and the south turn their different and separated things into the same and single ones,” Kim reportedly told Moon, “expressing his resolution to unify the two times now existing on the Korean peninsula as the first practical step for national reconciliation and unity.”
KCNA adds that practical moves to make the time change happen have already begun, as Pyongyang’s rubber-stamp communist lawmaking body has drafted a bill to change times.
South Korean officials confirmed the KCNA report, stating that Kim told Moon it was “heartbreaking” to see the clocks for both capitals show different times and that it was North Korea’s responsibility to change the time back to align with South Korea. A spokesman for the South Korean presidential palace, the Blue House (Cheong Wa Dae), applauded Kim’s move, stating it “signifies a willingness to take a more active approach in reaching harmony with the international community and to remove obstacles in relations.”
Kim Jong-un announced North Korea would establish a “Pyongyang time” in 2015 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of Japanese imperial occupation in Korea. The move would place North Korea 30 minutes behind Japan but also create a bizarre situation where South Korea would also fall in a different time zone than the north. Pyongyang is only 121 miles from Seoul, slightly west but significantly more north from the South Korean capital.
At the time, KCNA told North Korean citizens that the time change was necessary to return North Korea to the time zone that it was in before the Japanese occupied the territory in 1910.
“The wicked Japanese imperialists committed such unpardonable crimes as depriving Korea of even its standard time while mercilessly trampling down its land with 5 000 year-long history and culture and pursuing the unheard-of policy of obliterating the Korean nation,” KCNA claimed at the time.
On Monday, KCNA kept its signature tone towards the Japanese, who were not mentioned in the story on changing the time zone despite being the reason for the original time change.
Instead, KCNA condemned Japan on Saturday in a story titled “Old-Fashioned Japan Has No Future.”
“The situation around the Korean peninsula is favorably developing as is universally known. But only Japan is speaking ill of it, being vexed as if it walks on thorns,” the column protested, comparing Tokyo to “Don Quixote as it is unable to properly sense the trend toward peace that prevails in the Korean peninsula and the region.”
“Clear is the reason why Japan known to be shrewd and smart is acting out the anachronistic role of Don Quixote,” the story continued. “Japan is now keen on calculating its own interests, in disregard of the desire and wish of the Korean nation, the regional people and the international community under the rapidly changing situation.”
“Japan should clearly understand that its act of going against the trend of the times will only make it get marginalized as bubbles [sic],” the story concluded.
KCNA’s coverage of the Kim-Moon summit in Panmunjom was significantly more positive. The government outlet declared that the two states – which it repeatedly refers to as one state – will “achieve comprehensive and epochal improvement and development in the north-south ties and thus relink the severed blood vessel of the nation and bring earlier the future of common prosperity and independent reunification.”
Among the ways KCNA announced the two Koreas will achieve this will be asserting “the principle of national independence” to keep actors like the United States out of major decisions between the two, setting up a “joint liaison office” as a means of diplomacy, and “actively promot[ing] joint national events” such as artistic shows and sporting events.
KCNA hinted mildly at “various military measures” that North Korea would take to diffuse tensions and a promise to “realize disarmament in a phased manner depending on the removal of military tension and the substantial building of military confidence between the two sides.”
South Korean officials interpreted Kim Jong-un’s commitment to “complete denuclearization” as a promise to shut down the Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site in northern North Korea, which some reports suggest may be completely unusable due to damage sustained in the nation’s last two nuclear tests. Blue House spokesman Yoon Young-chan told reporters Sunday that Kim promised to “carry out the closure of the northern nuclear test site in May.”
Yoon informed reporters that Kim told Moon, “Some say that we are terminating facilities that are not functioning, but you will see that we have two more tunnels that are bigger than the existing ones and that they are in good condition,” according to South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo.
President Donald Trump is expected to meet with Kim Jong-un in either late May or early June, the first such meeting between an American president and North Korean dictator.