World News

North Korea Film Glorifies Kim’s World Debut, With Trump in Starring Role

Posted June 15, 2018 9:12 a.m. EDT

SEOUL, South Korea — Ever since Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, began his diplomatic outreach this spring, meeting the presidents of China and South Korea, North Korea has used it to glorify him as a pioneering peacemaker.

But for propaganda purposes, nothing beats a meeting with the president of the United States.

A documentary film released by North Korea makes the most of this week’s Singapore summit between Kim and President Donald Trump, which was the first-ever meeting between the leaders of two nations that have been sworn enemies for seven decades.

Though it portrayed Trump in a positive light, the film made clear that Kim was the main attraction at what it called “the meeting of the century.”

“Numerous heads of state have visited Singapore, but there have never been in its history so many people crowding its streets welcoming a visitor than this time,” Korean Central Television, the North Korean state broadcaster, said in the 42-minute film, which showed pedestrians waving and taking smartphone pictures of Kim’s motorcade.

“The streets were overflowing with people adoring our great leader, who is driving complex international politics with supernormal political acumen,” it said.

The documentary reported the details of the summit agreement, including the commitment to the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

It displayed a remarkable shift in tone on Trump, who praised Kim at the summit as “a very talented man.” Since taking office, Trump has been minimized or demonized in the North Korean state media, and before the Singapore meeting the two leaders often exchanged verbal attacks. Less than a year ago, Trump derided Kim as “rocket man” and threatened to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, while Kim called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Also notable was the film’s footage from Singapore and references to other countries. It is highly unusual for North Korea to allow its people glimpses into an outside world much richer and freer than its supposed “socialist paradise,” where more than 2 million died of hunger just two decades ago. The state media reports on foreign news usually focus on disasters, accidents, riots and outbreaks of war and disease.

But the film showed what it said was the Air China passenger jet that Kim rented from China for his flight to Singapore. Kim was also filmed admiring the “clean and beautiful” buildings in the brightly lit city-state during a nighttime stroll and commenting that his country could “learn a lot” from Singapore’s economic development.

The Singapore port was shown stacked with shipping containers, with the film noting that it connects “530 shipping routes and 700 ports around the world.”

“The film’s message to the North Koreans is clear: Kim Jong Un is a daring leader dealing with the Americans as equals, holding himself with confidence in the global stage,” said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, the South Korean capital. “Another message is that he is an honest leader willing to learn from the outside world.”

Even before the documentary was released, analysts said the Singapore summit, while lacking details on how denuclearization would be achieved, had been a huge boon for Kim Jong Un’s domestic propaganda efforts, with Trump helping to legitimize the dictator’s leadership in ways that a North Korean leader could previously only dream of.

The carefully edited documentary, bolstered by the rousing tones of a female narrator, depicted Kim as a bold global statesman discussing world peace with — and being treated with fawning respect by — the president of the United States.

At one point, the documentary showed a North Korean general saluting Trump and Trump saluting back, a scene the White House defended Thursday after the documentary was released. In the film, the narrator said that Trump “displayed exceptional respect and friendship” for Kim when he showed Kim his personal limousine.

The film was edited in such a way that the whole summit appeared to be centered on Kim, with him leading the negotiation and Trump carefully listening and occasionally nodding. Many faces of Kim were on display in the film. He was all smiles and almost cherubic before pedestrians straining to get a picture of him. But he displayed gravitas beyond his 34 years of age when his own aides, most of them twice his age, bowed deeply before him as they sent him off and welcomed him back home at the airport in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. In one scene, Kim sat relaxed and confident in his presidential suite at the St. Regis Hotel in Singapore, with his aides standing at his beck and call.

But packaged with propaganda were hints of Kim’s purported aspiration for a brighter future for his isolated country, which Trump and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea have said they will help provide should Kim denuclearize North Korea.

Showing Kim and Trump shaking hands in front of their countries’ flags, the documentary said the moment marked “the end of animosity and mistrust and the beginning of a new era of dialogue and cooperation” between North Korea and the United States.

“Who could have imagined this?” the narrator said. The documentary might also be a subtle way for Kim to prepare his people for their country’s nuclear disarmament by raising their expectations for an alternative future, said Kim Yong-hyun of Dongguk University.

The film opens with an aerial view of new pastel-colored buildings in Pyongyang built under Kim’s modernization drive. It ends with footage of Kim returning home early Wednesday from an “epoch-making event.” At Pyongyang’s newly built airport, Kim greeted a military honor guard and thousands of people, some appearing on the verge of tears, welcoming their leader home with applause and the waving of flags and fake flowers.

“The whole country is overflowing with pride, confidence and endless happiness” because it has a “globally recognized outstanding politician” as its leader, the narrator said.

What made the summit “stunning” was simply “the fact that a sitting president of the United States was meeting with the leader of North Korea,” said Troy Stangarone, a North Korea expert at the Washington-based Korea Economic Institute. “Now that Kim Jong Un has become the man of the hour, he has moved from ‘rocket man’ to ‘rock star.'”