SEOUL (Reuters) - Just hours after Kim Jong Un wrapped up a surprise evening sightseeing tour of Singapore on Monday, the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun crammed its front page with photographs snapped of the reclusive leader.
The official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea featured 14 photographs, covering more than half of the front page of its Tuesday issue, showing Kim jovially walking with officials from the city-state at a tropical garden as well as beside an infinity pool.
The speed of the coverage in Rodong Sinmun and other state media is unusual in a country where events are often reported a full day, if not longer, after they happen.
The sense of fun in the reporting is also a contrast with the more sober way in which the North Korean media would usually handle an official trip.
It appears to reflect a new confidence among officials in North Korea that the isolated country has really been accepted onto the world stage. This is the furthest Kim is known to have traveled since he came to power in 2011 and there has never previously been a meeting between a U.S. president and a North Korean leader.
Despite all pomp and circumstance, ordinary North Koreans are not confident that improvement in relations between the North and the United States will last long and give them a better economy, defectors say.
“They weren’t too excited about the summit. North Korea had rice and medicine aid from the United States and other countries before, but that did not trickle down to ordinary people,” said Park Hyun-sook, a defector who spoke to two relatives inside the North by phone on Saturday.
“Under sanctions, we have figured out the way to live on our own. Even under any better relationship with the U.S., it would be the same,” Park told Reuters. Park used to smuggle North Korean goods into China to make a living near the border.
Many North Koreans are still filled with deep-rooted distrust towards Trump, which state media previously called a “lunatic old man”, said Daily NK, a news website run by North Korean defectors who retain contacts with sources inside.
North Korea’s official media brought a large number of reporters and camera operators to Singapore for the Kim trip, and they had access to various locations that was denied to media from elsewhere in the world.
For previous trips by Kim to China, state media had mostly reported the visits after Kim had returned to Pyongyang. In the case of the inter-Korea summit - which began on the morning of April 27 - the coverage was largely delayed until early the next day.
In addition to the pictures of Kim on the tour on Tuesday, separate landscape shots of the Marina Bay Sands hotel, and a bird’s-eye view of Singapore from the hotel’s observation deck were also shown.
KCNA reported Kim as saying of the sightseeing tour that “Singapore is clean and beautiful and every building is stylish as he heard of in the past, adding he is going to learn a lot from the good knowledge and experience of Singapore in various fields in the future.”
On Monday, Rodong Sinmun had shown Kim just before departing Pyongyang for Singapore, shaking hands with his officials and waving his hand inside the entrance of an Air China airplane ahead of takeoff.
State television aired the same photographs of Kim’s departure as well as his arrival in Singapore and the North Korean leader’s meeting with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Presidential Palace.
The North Korean media still faces some barriers, though. It doesn’t go live for such sensitive events.
In the capital of Pyongyang, North Koreans watched a big TV screen playing still photographs of Kim’s visit to Singapore and read a newspaper about the trip at a subway station, media photographs showed.
But, on Tuesday, while all other international networks went live with Kim and Trump’s first handshake and opening remarks at their meeting, the official Korean Central Television remained blank, choosing not to break with its usual broadcast schedule that usually begins five hours later.
Reporting by Christine Kim, Ju-min Park; Editing by Martin Howell