When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met U.S. President Donald Trump at Panmunjom last weekend, Pyongyang’s state media praised the unlikely encounter as evidence of Kim’s diplomatic prowess. But sources inside the country say the North Korean people are not buying it.
Many within the reclusive state see domestic sources like the state-run Rodong Shinmun newspaper and the Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) as propaganda. Local sources say that even high-ranking officials are less likely to believe what they see in North Korean media, preferring to get their news from outside sources.
“Today, the Rodong Shinmun reported the news that Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump had a historic reunion in Panmunjom,” said a source from Pyongyang in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service Monday.
“[The report said] the dramatic event took place after the president said he wanted to use his South Korea visit as an opportunity to meet the North Korean leader,” said the source.
The source said that the report was unreasonably congratulatory to Kim.
“[It] praised his excellent friendship with the President,” the source said.
“But North Koreans are now criticizing the fact that the Highest Dignity rushed to meet the president,” the source said, implying that Kim may have been a little too eager to meet with Trump.
The source was also critical of official communications from the Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party, again for overly praising the North Korean Leader’s diplomatic skill.
“[They] told residents that ‘the world highly regards the head of the state as a strategic and skillful leader, after seeing his confident and proactive actions,” the source said.
“But residents, especially officials are ridiculing the propaganda of the authorities. In particular the source noted that officials are saying that Kim Jong Un was perhaps a little too eager to meet the president.
“It is the position of our leader that he ran out to meet the U.S. president immediately,” the source said.
The source said that the public is fully aware that most official news sources are propaganda and prefer to get their news elsewhere.
“Nowadays, most people are more interested in getting news from foreign sources,” the source said, adding, “High-ranking officials and traders who travel abroad are well aware that the Central Committee distorts [the truth] in [their] propaganda or reports.”
Even those who don’t travel out of the country appear to be aware as well. A source in Dandong, China who travels to North Korea often said, “The question I get the most in North Korea is ‘How is the situation outside?’.”
“One time I met a North Korean official with whom I have a long-term close relationship, and he asked me many questions about the situation outside, including in the U.S. and other countries. When I told him that the U.S. seized the 17,000 ton North Korean cargo ship Wise Honest for violating UN sanctions, he was surprised and asked for more details,” the second source said.
The Wise Honest was detained in April 2018 while on a trip toward Indonesia, and it had carried North Korean coal to China, Russia and other countries while concealing the origin of the ship and cargo, according to a complaint filed by U.S. officials in May 2019.
Regarding the Panmunjom meeting between Kim and Trump, the second source said that North Koreans realize that venerating the North Korean Leader for rushing to the Joint Security Area (JSA) to meet the president doesn’t quite add up.
“The authorities propagandize that North Korea is the most powerful country in the world and Kim Jong Un is leading the world with his outstanding ability and courage, so why is he hurrying to meet President Trump in Panmunjom just one day after getting notice [that Trump wanted to visit?],” the second source said.
“Despite Kim Jong Un’s three meetings with President Trump and his emphasis on friendship, the U.S. shows no signs of lifting its sanctions on North Korea, so people are beginning to doubt his diplomatic abilities.”
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.