Trump-Kim Summit Makes Front Page News in North Korea

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un
Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg/Getty/AFP

North Korea’s state media outlets extensively covered dictator Kim Jong-un’s departure to Singapore on Sunday to meet President Donald Trump, calling the meeting “historic” and telling readers the two leaders will share “wide-ranging and profound views” on everything from denuclearization to ending the Korean War.

Covering Kim’s departure from Pyongyang – where he was forced to borrow a plane from China due to the dilapidated state of his official aircraft – breaks the precedent the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) has established of only covering Kim’s trips abroad after he has returned home. Kim has made two foreign visits as head of state, both this year and both to China.

North Korea’s government-run media are the only way North Korean citizens have of learning about news events. It has historically published belligerent screeds against the United States, Japan, South Korea, and anyone deemed an enemy of the repressive communist regime, and, conversely, applauded allied communist states like Cuba and Venezuela. North Koreans found out that Kim had agreed to meet Trump months after the rest of the world, as government media refused to break the news.

On Sunday, however, KCNA detailed Kim’s departure from Pyongyang, where senior officials saw him off in an official ceremony.

Kim, the outlet reported, “left here by a Chinese plane for his personal use on the morning of June 10 to visit the Republic of Singapore where the DPRK-U.S. summit meeting and talks are to be held.”

“The historic first summit meeting and talks between Kim Jong Un, the respected Supreme Leader of the party, the state and the army of the DPRK, and Donald J. Trump, president of the United States of America, are to be held on the morning of June 12,” KCNA added. The outlet also listed the individuals accompanying Kim to Singapore, including Kim Yong-chol, the U.S.-designated terrorist whom Kim sent to the White House two weeks ago, and Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s sister, who made headlines attending the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

KCNA describes Kim Yo-jong as an “alternate member of the Political Bureau and first vice department director of the C.C. [Central Committee], WPK [Workers’ Party of Korea, the Korean Communist Party].” It does not mention a title typically attributed to her in Western media: the head of the country’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, which publishes all media content in the country.

The topics on the table at the Kim-Trump summit have remained largely a mystery. President Trump described the nature of the summit as a “getting-to-know-you meeting plus” in remarks to reporters two weeks ago. North Korea’s state media reported Sunday that they will discuss “wide-ranging and profound views on the issue of establishing new DPRK-U.S. relations, the issue of building a permanent and durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean Peninsula, the issue of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and other issues of mutual concern, as required by the changed era.”

Rodong Sinmun, the North Korean government newspaper, published photos of Kim’s departure ceremony on its front page, according to the South Korean outlets Chosun Ilbo and Yonhap News Agency. Chosun reproduced the newspaper’s front page on its site, citing Yonhap:

Chosun Ilbo speculates that part of the reason North Korean officials only revealed that Kim left the country after he had returned is that Kim “at first seemed nervous that discontent in the unruly military or the Pyongyang elite could bubble over in his absence.” As Kim appeared to suffer no consequences to the stability of his rule for visiting China, announcing his departure to Singapore may have seemed to him a safer move.

North Korean state media described the departure Kim received as a full-fledged “ceremony.” They also updated North Koreans on Kim’s meetings before the main event with President Trump.

Kim met Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday, “made an entry in the visitors’ book, and had a friendly talk with him,” according to KCNA. Kim reportedly described Singapore to the prime minister as “magnificent and beautiful” and expressed gratitude to Singapore for hosting.

North Korea tends to keep its official government commentary on the pages of Rodong Sinmun, which routinely threatened nuclear annihilation of the American mainland last year. On Monday, the newspaper published a piece asserting the sovereignty of North Korea.

“Independence is the life and soul and dignity of a country and nation and the symbol of a sovereign and independent state,” the newspaper insisted. “Only when independence of each country is maintained, can the legacy of domination and subordination be eradicated, genuine equal relations be formed between countries and nations and fair international relations be established.”

The commentary does not mention the United States, which North Korea’s officials routinely accuse of “imperialism” and attempts to subordinate foreign governments, or China, which exerts outsized influence on the Kim regime as it is the nation’s top trade partner and closest ally. The Chinese regime has largely remained on the sidelines of the Trump-Kim summit, triggering alarmed articles in Chinese state media that insist Chinese influence in any talks between Pyongyang and Washington is “essential” to progress.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

.