North Koreans were offered a rare glimpse into their reclusive leader’s schedule on Monday after the tightly controlled state media issued surprisingly detailed reports of his trip to Singapore.
In a seven-minute morning bulletin, star newsreader Ri Chun Hee, 75, revealed the news of Kim Jong-un’s arrival in the tiny Asian city-state 3,000 miles south of Pyongyang in her typically melodramatic style, clad, as always for major announcements, in a traditional Korean pink and black dress.
For decades, Ms Ri has been entrusted with announcing great moments in North Korean history. Against the backdrop of Mount Paektu, a dormant volcano symbolising Korean nationhood, she said Kim had met Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore’s prime minister, and would hold talks with President Donald Trump.
The Rodong Sinmun newspaper had a two-page colour spread on Kim’s departure for a “historic summit” and the Korean Central News Agency declared that the meeting would address denuclearisation, permanent peace on the Peninsula and other matters “required by the changed era.”
The coordinated messaging appeared to be designed both to prime the North Korean public for potential change, and also to dispel rumours that Kim did not wish to publicise the trip – his first as leader outside of his own borders or nearby China – for fear of a coup.
The Rodong Sinmun spread underlined that Kim would be meeting Trump to discuss “wide-ranging and profound views” to establish new US-North Korea relations. Talks would include a “durable peace-keeping mechanism on the Korean Peninsula,” it added.
Carefully chosen photos used in TV and print reports attempted to maximise Kim’s statesman-like image. Mr Trump’s agreement to meet with him, the first time a sitting president has ever done so, has handed a political coup to the young leader who rose to power in 2011.
A two-page color spread in this morning's Rodong Sinmum: North Korea announces that Kim Jong Un has left for a "historic summit" with the president of the United States. Clearly shows that he left in a Chinese plane too. pic.twitter.com/UBhZC1YzRa— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) June 10, 2018
Ri Chun Hee’s broadcast showed stills of Kim inspecting a guard of honour at Pyongyang airport before his departure to Singapore, and of his motorcade approaching the downtown luxury St Regis hotel where he is staying.
Kim was also shown shaking the hand of Prime Minister Lee, as well as several shots of the two leaders seated a table in the Istana hotel while holding bilateral talks.
Pictures used by state media also clearly showed Kim boarding a Chinese chartered plane, waving to wellwishers while standing next to a painted Chinese national flag.
North Korean TV just aired a report on Kim's Sunday departure, arrival and meet with Singapore PM. 5 repeats scheduled today. If you're curious what "Donald J Trump" sounds like in Korean, see if you can hear Ri Chun Hee say his name. Full video: https://t.co/LpEIyUOAwUpic.twitter.com/jE9u3Nhaiy— Martyn Williams (@martyn_williams) June 11, 2018
The Air China 747 was reportedly chosen over Kim’s aging Russian-made Ilyushin-62 private jet, for safety reasons.
However, analysts noted that it was uncommon for Pyongyang’s media to reveal the charter of a foreign plane, which contradicted the North Korean government’s ideology of “juche”, the principle of self-reliance.
Some speculated that the carefully stage-managed pictures were deliberately intended to convey close bilateral ties with China after a long period of frosty relations.
“The charter of a Chinese airplane may have an effect of publicising China’s active support and cooperation to the North Korean people ahead of summit talks with the US,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean studies told the Yonhap news agency.
Three planes arrived from Pyongyang on Sunday, leading to much speculation before Kim arrived about which one he was on.
The IL-62, named Chammae-1 after North Korea’s national bird, was among them and was believed to be carrying Kim Yo-jong, the leader’s younger sister.
First to arrive was an IL-76 transport plane which, the Chosun Ilbo reported, contained not only Kim’s bullet-proof stretch limousine and food for the trip, but his personal portable toilet.
The portaloo, which first featured at the inter-Korean summit with Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, in April, is reportedly an extreme security measure to prevent foreign powers from discovering sensitive details about Kim’s health by collecting stool samples.
The paranoid supreme leader has also brought his jogging security guards with him, who have already been spotted running beside his Mercedes Benz in suits and ties despite Singapore's 35 degrees heat.
The elite bodyguards were a popular distraction at the inter-Korean summit in April when they first caught the world's attention.
While they may look like extras in a spoof Hollywood spy movie, the young men are hand-picked from the Korean People's Army and must have perfect eyesight, marksmanship and martial arts skills.
They are also entrusted with the all-important task of inspecting Kim's food, and with carrying the liquor and cigarettes he requires when on the road.
Kim's smoking habit has caused some consternation in the Singaporean press, with the Straits Times pointing out that smoking is banned indoors, and speculating on whether special arrangements might be made to accommodate him.