North Korean leader Kim Jong-un looked confident and relaxed enough to make jokes as he emerged from a veil of secrecy Friday at Panmunjeom for a historic inter-Korean summit, part of his charm offensive to present himself as a leader of a normal country.
In a black Mao-style suit, the reclusive state‘s leader came out of Panmungak, the liaison office building on the North Korean side of the truce village of Panmunjeom, along with his key aides and security guards.
Kim walked toward the Military Demarcation Line between two blue meeting huts -- T2 and T3 controlled by the United Nations Command -- dividing the two Koreas in the Joint Security Area of Panmunjeom.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the Peace House at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters (Yonhap)
Kim, the 30-something young leader of the reclusive country, didn’t look nervous as he held President Moon Jae-in’s hand in a historic handshake, a scene which was broadcast live around the world.
As Moon waited on his side of the MDL at the border, Kim smiled, walked over and was the first to speak to Moon. After shaking hands with Moon for about 30 seconds, an unexpected scene played out.
“(You) are coming to the South, when will I be able to visit the North?” Moon asked. “Let’s step over now,” Kim said, leading Moon across the MDL to the North‘s side.
The two leaders briefly crossed the border together into North Korea, held hands facing each other, posed for photos for about 10 seconds and returned to the South’s side.
Kim Jong-un has become the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea by crossing the military line that has divided the peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
Kim also told Moon that he would be willing to visit him in Seoul “any time if you invite me,” according to the presidential office.
The friendly atmosphere continued throughout the summit.
“I heard that you lost sleep early in the morning attending National Security Council meetings because of us. It must now have become habit to wake up early,” Kim jokingly said, referring to the South’s NSC meetings followed by the North’s series of nuclear and missile tests last year.
“As the chairman has spoken (about related issues) to the special envoys, I will be able to sleep well from now on,” Moon said. Moon’s special envoys, led by the national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, visited the North in March.
“I will ensure that the president does not lose sleep early in the morning,” Kim responded, reiterating a pledge he made when the envoys visited him.
The two leaders exchanged remarks in the meeting room on the second floor of Peace House inside Panmunjeom, before the historic summit began. The room erupted in laughter as Kim made jokes.
“In the morning…. I heard that they talked about the dinner menu. We did manage to bring naengmyeon (Korean cold noodles) from Pyongyang. I hope President Moon can enjoy it… which came a long way… ah we probably shouldn’t say it is far.”
Kim jokingly corrected himself after he said he had brought the North’s signature naengmyeon from afar. Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, is only 147 kilometers from Panmunjeom.
Experts say that Kim seems like a “seasoned” leader prepared to present himself as a leader of a normal country.
“It was all very natural and he was taking a lead. It seemed that he was well prepared for the summit,” said Cho Han-bum, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification.
“Wearing a Mao suite, I think he means to send a message to his own people. It indicates that he engages with the international community but follows his own path,” he said.
By Ock Hyun-ju (email@example.com)