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(US-NK summit) (News Focus) N.K.'s swift reporting on Kim's trip indicates efforts to craft image of normal state

North Korea 10:48 February 27, 2019

By Koh Byung-joon

SEOUL, Feb. 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korean state media's unprecedentedly swift and detailed reporting on leader Kim Jong-un's trip to Vietnam demonstrates Pyongyang's push to present itself as a "normal state" that the international community can trust and deal with, experts said Wednesday.

Day-to-day coverage of Kim's overseas trip can also be interpreted as an indication that the leader is confident in his grip on the regime and believes that disclosing his unprecedentedly long absence from Pyongyang would not pose a threat to his power, they added.

"North Korea appears to be making efforts to project itself as a normal state through such media reporting," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said. "This might be intended to show to the world that a change is starting from its media."

These AFP and VNA photos show U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un waving as they arrive in Vietnam on Feb. 26, 2019. The two are to start their two-day summit on Pyongyang's denuclearization in Hanoi later on Feb. 27. (Yonhap)

Kim arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday after a 66-hour train trip through central China. His special train departed Pyongyang on Saturday afternoon. He is to hold a summit with Trump on Wednesday and Thursday and make an "official goodwill visit" to Vietnam after the summit from March 1-2.

The North's media outlets reported on Kim's Vietnam trip a day after the train's departure from Pyongyang, which was seen as unusual given the reclusive state's tendency to stay tight-lipped about its leaders' overseas travels and itineraries apparently for safety reasons.

On Wednesday, North Korean media outlets went a step further, reporting in detail on Kim's arrival in Hanoi as well as his first-day schedules, including a meeting with officials holding pre-summit negotiations with the United States and a visit to the North's embassy in Hanoi.

They even disclosed the leader's future schedules, revealing dates for the bilateral visit to Vietnam.

The Rodong Sinmun, the North's official newspaper, in particular, devoted its entire front page to covering Kim's trip and ran articles and photos on other pages too featuring his arrival and first-day activities, along with responses both from Hanoi and Pyongyang.

These contrast sharply with the way the North's media outlets has typically handled such news. They have usually carried brief reports, if any, on such trips and provided details only after its leader returned home safely.

Kim Jong-un appears to be showing a different tack on the media since taking office in late 2011, and the change has been evident especially since last year, when he cranked up his nuclear diplomacy.

North Korean media were relatively swift in reporting Kim's trip to Singapore last June for his first-ever summit with Trump. Kim's departure was reported in time for his arrival at an airport in the city-state, which was just around a 7-hour gap.

The latest example is Kim's visit to China last month, which was reported by North Korean news outlets right after his train's departure for Beijing.

The front page of the Feb. 27 edition of North Korea's daily Rodong Sinmun carries photos of the country's leader Kim Jong-un's visit to Hanoi for a two-day summit with U.S. President Donald Trump. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Pyongyang had been silent for weeks about Kim's planned trip to Vietnam despite Washington's announcement of its date and host country. Since his Saturday departure, however, the North's media have been swift and extensive in their coverage.

Lim Eul-chul, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University, said that it appears that such media coverage is aimed at "image-making" targeting not just international but also domestic audiences.

"Chairman Kim appears to be trying to share with citizens his diplomatic activities as much as possible, a move that could be seen as an effort to appeal to the domestic public," Lim said. "Such changes (in media reporting) might stem from a need to go along with his people toward a normal state."

He said that Pyongyang's swift reporting on Kim's Vietnam trip could also be a signal of the country's strong confidence or at least high expectations about the results of the high-stakes nuclear showdown with Trump this week.

"It could be seen as the North's confidence ahead of the summit with the U.S.," he said. "Why would it risk disappointing its people with such trumpeted reporting if it does not have confidence in the results?"

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un poses for a photo with the staff and family members of Pyongyang's embassy in Hanoi during a visit on Feb. 26, 2019, in this photo carried by the North's Rodong Sinmun the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

kokobj@yna.co.kr
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