South Koreans’ responses to media exposure of Kim, in particular the historic April 27 inter-Korean summit held in the border village of Panmunjeom, ranged from skepticism to amusement and surprise.
During the daylong summit, South Koreans were able to witness, via live broadcast, sides of the North Korean dictator they had never seen before.
Kim smiled as he shook hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, attentively leaned in as Moon talked at length, joked over the North’s regional specialty food and introduced his wife Ri Sol-ju to South Korean officials.
“It felt like he does have a softer side,” said Choi Je-sook, 64. “I had previously thought he was an ignorant and belligerent person with no principles. But seeing him on TV, I thought he seemed unexpectedly soft. He seemed like someone with tolerance.”
Others were more wary. Kim Na-hyun, 21, was amused by Kim Jong-un’s jovial manner and his joke on bringing Pyeongyang Naengmyeon, or North Korean-style cold noodles, to Panmunjeom.
“It was funny, but that was it,” she said. “It didn’t make me believe that he was actually a good person.”
Moon Jin-kyu, 38, said that the summit achieved significant success in covering up a lot of the “negative perceptions” and antipathy that South Koreans had harbored toward the unpredictable Northern leader.
|Koreans on the street talk to The Korea Herald about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, on May 10. (Park Ju-young/The Korea Herald)|
Peter Daley, who teaches English at a women’s university in Seoul and has experience teaching North Korean refugee students, believes that the personality of Kim Jong-un largely remains a mystery. “How much of it was for show? How much of it was planned? How much of it was him just … being himself?”
However, the North Korean leader’s personal image should not be seen separately from the alleged atrocities in the country.
“(The new image) doesn’t negate in any way, shape or form the allegations against (the North Korean regime) in terms of human rights,” Daley added.
By Rumy Doo (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Park Ju-young (email@example.com)