Since the summit was revived by Trump last week, there has been scant mention of Trump or the meeting in the North’s tightly controlled propaganda outlets. Another curious blank slate: nothing by state-run outlets on the North’s diplomatic mission that helped save the summit.
One might think the North would engage in at least a little state-directed congratulations before Kim’s planned arrival in Singapore on Sunday, according to a schedule reported by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
After all, it was clear that Kim was eager to meet after Trump called off the Singapore summit on May 24 following some choice barbs from the North, including calling Vice President Pence a “political dummy.”
Yet there has been nothing but crickets from the North on the stunning visit to the White House on June 1 by Kim’s personal envoy, Kim Yong Chol.
Not so unusual, said Peter Ward, a North Korea researcher at Seoul National University.
“I am not overly surprised, to be honest, that they aren't talking about Trump, given that they have spent the last year and a half trashing him on a daily basis,” Ward said. “It's a standard North Korean media tactic. When you can't say anything good but do not want to say anything bad, you say nothing.”
It also could reflect a bit of tactical caution by the Kim regime.
“The complete lack of coverage of the summit negotiations also implies that they do not want to announce firm and potentially realizable aims or expectations,” Ward added. “The regime is employing a wait-and-see approach to the issue, which makes sense from their point of view.”
Still, it’s a serious contrast to the days last year when choice insults — Trump’s “Little Rocket Man” and Kim’s “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” — were flying between Washington and Pyongyang during the North’s nuclear and missile tests.
Instead, there was this on Saturday: North Korean reports about Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, touring the Pyongyang Daedonggang Seafood Restaurant.
The official Korean Central News Agency declared that Kim was pleased, even saying that the eatery was “on par” with another well-known Pyongyang establishment, Okryu-gwan, known for its local-style cold noodles and other Korean dishes.
“Another landmark restaurant,” Kim was quoted as saying. The report did not make clear when the visit occurred.
And nothing, too, about the summit. There was, however, some note of a preparatory visit to Pyongyang by Singapore's foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan.
But it’s not completely barren territory for students of North Korean media.
The restaurant visit could be further evidence of a possible shift in state policies for greater emphasis on smaller enterprises and grass-roots economic growth, Yonhap reported. Top officials have recently stepped up tours of farms and factories to apparently showcase the regime’s new focus.
Other tidbits from the North are being chewed over as well.
An article on May 29 in the Rodong Sinmun, the official party newspaper, slammed U.S. media reports that North Korea is seeking major “economic aid” from the United States. The Rodong Sinmun piece made no mention of the North’s nuclear program but noted that it was the Trump administration that first sought talks after realizing its military threats and sanctions were “doomed to failure.”
In other words, it appeared to discount the main carrot potentially offered by Trump: a relaxation of sanctions and a flow of economic assistance.
“As far as the 'economic aid' advertised by the U.S. is concerned, the DPRK has never expected it,” the article said, using the initials for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Min Joo Kim contributed to this report.