North Korea has issued directives to step up propaganda to prevent possible unrest among the public from the unexpected turn of events regarding the planned summit between the United States and the North in June and the destruction of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, sources inside the country said.
A meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to discuss Pyongyang’s relinquishment of its nuclear arsenal in exchange for security assurances and economic relief remains tentatively scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.
A week ago, Trump called off the meeting in response to what he said was “tremendous anger and open hostility” displayed by Kim in recent statements that denounced top U.S. officials.
On May 26, Kim had an unannounced meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is acting as a go-between for the high-stakes summit between the North and the U.S. since the recent breakthrough in détente between Seoul and Pyongyang, to get the summit with Trump back on track.
After Moon publicly stated that Kim had reaffirmed his commitment to completely denuclearize the Korean peninsula, U.S. officials headed to Pyongyang to discuss the details of the still tentative summit.
In anticipation of the meeting, North Korea earlier this month freed three American prisoners and on May 24 appeared to blow up tunnels and other buildings at its Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the mountainous northeastern part of the country where the regime has conducted six underground tests since 2006.
Concerned about the impact that the continued uncertainty over the summit coupled with the North’s destruction of its main nuclear test facility might have on the public, the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea has issued directives regarding the North-South meeting, the North-U.S. summit, and Punggye-ri, said a source from North Hamgyong province who declined to be named.
“The order was to make thorough counter-plans against the enemies’ pretentious peace strategy while people and cadres are thinking about whether the current situation has already brought peace,” he said.
The source quoted the statement of directives about the nuclear test site, which say: “We are blowing up our creation for which we spent an enormous amount of money and tears of blood. However, we can build a technically perfect modern facility if we want to in the future.”
Prior to the destruction of tunnels and other buildings at the nuclear test site, observed by invited members of the international media, reports surfaced in April that the Punggye-ri complex had already partially collapsed from the stress of multiple nuclear explosions, possibly making it unsafe for further tests.
While the Central Committee’s statement served to cushion possible “psychological unrest” among citizens, it also included phrasing to indicate that the North has not abandoned its nuclear power ambitions, the source said.
It encouraged North Koreans “to firmly stand on the path that our previous leaders’ built for national defense” and pledged that the country will “hold our artillery to face our enemies who hold guns and swords,’” said the source. Until recently, the North has viewed South Korea and the U.S. as its adversaries.
The source also noted that the statement says: “In order to become a world power that no other countries can attempt to attack, we need to maintain the achievements that we have earned by tightening our belt and continue the decades of years of hard work of our past generations.”
“This clearly indicates that there will be no complete removal of nuclear capabilities,” he said.
What to believe?
The directives will raise eyebrows among North Koreans who now will not know what to believe about recent developments, despite some signs of enthusiasm about détente with South Korea and the U.S., said a source from North Pyongan province who declined to be named.
North Korean sources previously told RFA’s Korean Service that citizens have been largely unmoved by, if not mistrustful of, state propaganda heralding Kim’s diplomatic achievements in the nuclear-armed, sanctions-hit state.
“Most North Koreans have reacted positively to the recent North-South summit, plans for a North-U.S. summit, and the removal of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site removal because they can expect possible economic reform,” he said, referring to a hope that harsh international sanctions placed on the regime in response to its nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches may now be eased.
“On the other hand, the directives from the Central Committee have driven people to the opposite side of the current situation, so that they are not sure what to believe,” he said.
Reported by Myungchul Lee for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.