One of the most under-reported successes of this week’s Hanoi Summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump has been the fact that DPRK officials, up to and including Chairman Kim, are more open to international media than at any previous time in history. In the past, DPRK officials rarely spoke to international media and hardly ever gave anything that approximated a 21st century style press conference. Today however, this appears to be gradually but unambiguously changing.
First of all, throughout the Hanoi summit, Kim responded to questions from international journalists in a calm, diplomatic and congenial manner. This represents a clear departure from last year’s Singapore Summit in which Kim remained happy to restrain his public remarks to fraternal greetings to Donald Trump via an interpreter.
Furthermore, after the summit, the DPRK’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho stayed behind to address the international media in a manner not altogether dissimilar to the kind of press statement that one would expect from a nation far less isolated than the DPRK.
As it is now beyond a shadow of a doubt that the DPRK seeks more economic openness with the wider world, in-line with its ongoing aims in the current peace process, the country seems to be emerging from decades of comparative media isolation and appears ready to engage not only with nations that it once refrained from speaking with directly, but also with international media channels that DPRK officials once unilaterally shunned.
In order to build on the momentum of the current peace process whilst not wanting to allow the Hanoi Summit to be seen as a moment of stagnation in respect of ongoing discussions with the United States, it seems to be the case that the DPRK is realising that soft power is required in order to convince the wider world of the things that those who follow DPRK internal media have long known.
First of all, whilst the DPRK is less accessible than many other countries, more and more international tourists are travelling to the country and are seeing first hand how the DPRK is modernising whilst retaining its cultural characteristics and maintaining its political traditions. Secondly, people are beginning to realise that through economic openness, mutual suspicions, tensions and mistrust tend to also tend to rapidly decease.
But in order to prepare the world to accept the DPRK’s new economic goals, the country seems to be realising that communicating its own message with a unique and indigenous voice, is incredibly necessary in the age of 24/7 online media. Hence, upon seeing the DPRK leader and his colleagues acting in a far more relaxed manner in front of international journalists than they could muster even eight months ago, it is becoming clear that the country is focusing more on its perception abroad than at any previous time in its history.
This new attitude is also reflected in an official printed statement in the Pyongyang Times – a DPRK newspaper aimed at foreign readers. The Pyongyang Times reflected on the Hanoi Summit in the following way:
“The DPRK Supreme Leader met the US President again at the Metropole Hotel in Hanoi at 9 am local time and held one-on-one talks and extended talks with their aides attending.
Highly appreciating the remarkable progress which was made in the historic course of implementing the Singapore joint statement at the talks, the top leaders of the two countries had a constructive and candid exchange of opinions over the practical issues arising in opening up a new era of DPRK-US fence-mending on the basis of the progress.
At the talks they shared the common understanding that the efforts made by the two sides and proactive measures taken by them to defuse tensions and promote peace on the Korean peninsula and completely denuclearize it are of great significance in building mutual trust and radically turning around the decades-long relationship of mistrust and antagonism between the two countries.
The top leaders heard each other’s views on the issues that should be resolved without fail at the present stage in order to achieve the common goals specified in the Singapore joint statement and had an in-depth discussion of the ways to this end.
They expressed the conviction that although the barrier of antagonism and confrontation, which was built up in the hostile relationship spanning over seven decades, is high and there may arise unavoidable hardships and difficulties in the course of writing a new history of the DPRK-US relationship, they could advance the bilateral ties significantly as desired by the peoples of the two countries if they make their way through, hand in hand, with wisdom and patience.
The top leaders of the two countries appreciated that their second meeting in Hanoi marked an important occasion for deepening mutual respect and trust and making the bilateral ties leap to a new stage.
They agreed to keep in close touch with each other for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and the radical development of bilateral relations in the future, too, and to continue productive dialogues for settling the issues discussed at the Hanoi summit.
Kim Jong Un expressed his thanks to Trump for making positive efforts for the successful meeting and talks while travelling a long way and said goodbye to him, promising the next meeting”.
The positive assessment of the summit as conveyed by the Pyongyang Times, makes it clear that in terms of perception, the DPRK wants to emphasise the positive aspects of the summit, in the same way that ultimately Donald Trump did during his post-meeting press conference. In this sense, the DPRK is realising that in order to attain win-win results, fostering a proper mentality among those unfamiliar with the realities of the DPRK is necessary in order for the wider world to help encourage all sides to eventually reach an agreement that is viewed as mutually satisfactory in both Pyongyang and Washington.
Whilst the DPRK is ages away from starting its own multi-lingual 24/7 news channel, the rest of 2019 will almost certainly be a time in which DPRK political leaders open themselves up to international media connectivity like never before. The fact of the matter is that in order to encourage other nations and private investors to push for peace through encouraging further prosperity, the DPRK must convey to the world that not only is the country open for business, but that it is a much kinder and gentler place than many have been led to believe.