Singapore (AFP) – The usually closely-guarded North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke away from summit preparations Monday for a night-time stroll on the Singapore waterfront, even posing for selfies with the city-state’s foreign minister.
The picture posted online by Vivian Balakrishnan as the group toured a series of major sites, less than 12 hours ahead of Kim’s meeting with US President Donald Trump, is the first such public image of the North’s leader.
In his own country, his appearances are normally carefully managed, with any foreigners present having to go through hours-long security checks beforehand.
Kim had remained inside his Singapore hotel all day but a lengthy motorcade emerged from the St Regis in the evening, a North Korean flag flying from his stretch limousine as when he made his way from the airport.
The convoy pulled into the Gardens by the Bay, a man-made park spanning 101 hectares (250 acres) along Singapore’s waterfront that features two air-conditioned domes containing plants native to temperate climates.
Kim was spotted walking inside, with his sister and close aide Kim Yo Jong also part of the group.
Minutes later, Balakrishnan tweeted his picture of himself with the North Korean leader and the city-state’s education minister. “#Jalanjalan,” he wrote — a colloquial expression meaning “going for a stroll”.
Some commenters approved. “So cute!” said one.
Others were distinctly unimpressed.
North Korea stands accused of widespread human rights abuses and user @huangyonghua asked Balakrishnan: “Is it worth taking a picture with a tyrant? It’s your shame.”
Several posters believed it was the first time a selfie with Kim had been publicly seen.
“I had to view this several times before even grasping this was real,” posted Oxford University Chinese studies postgraduate Tom Fowdy.
The Kim dynasty has a history of receiving horticultural tributes — the North’s founder has an orchid named after him, the Kimilsungia, and his father a begonia, the Kimjongilia.
Pyongyang mounts exhibitions of the two blooms every year to celebrate the men — and Gardens by the Bay currently hosts a begonia exhibition.
At the Marina Bay Sands (MBS) hotel, casino and convention centre, Kim visited the high-level SkyPark that links the three 55-storey towers of the complex.
As flashbulbs fired he walked halfway over the Jubilee Bridge, built in 2015 to mark Singapore’s 50th year, where the group paused for his escorts to take more selfies, as Kim grinned and waved.
Police guarding metal barricades held back around 60 journalists and cameramen.
The structure offers a view of Singapore’s iconic skyline, flanked on one side by the MBS, and the towering skyscrapers of the business district on the other.
The glittering lights will have been a striking contrast to his often dimly lit capital, much of which is tired even though Kim has overseen the construction of several prestige projects.