August 16, 2018

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In eye of storm, North Koreans sees scant news of Kim's trip

PYONGYANG, Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of - With all the attention focused on Singapore and the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang must be buzzing with excitement, right?

Well, maybe, if anyone here knew it was happening.

Instead, North Korea's capital was like the calm in the centre of a storm.

With few sources of information other than government-run media, gossip and word of mouth, North Koreans were largely in the dark about the momentous — and potentially life-changing — events taking place outside of their isolated nation.

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Residents go about their business near one of the city’s biggest department stores and shopping areas in Pyongyang, North Korea Sunday, June 10, 2018. Despite the focus of world attention on the upcoming summit in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, many North Koreans remain in the dark about what is happening outside their isolated nation. (AP Photo/Eric Talmadge)

Residents go about their business near one of the city’s biggest department stores and shopping areas in Pyongyang, North Korea Sunday, June 10, 2018. Despite the focus of world attention on the upcoming summit in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, many North Koreans remain in the dark about what is happening outside their isolated nation. (AP Photo/Eric Talmadge)

PYONGYANG, Korea, Democratic People's Republic Of - With all the attention focused on Singapore and the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Pyongyang must be buzzing with excitement, right?

Well, maybe, if anyone here knew it was happening.

Instead, North Korea's capital was like the calm in the centre of a storm.

With few sources of information other than government-run media, gossip and word of mouth, North Koreans were largely in the dark about the momentous — and potentially life-changing — events taking place outside of their isolated nation.

Before Monday, official news outlets had reported only that the two leaders planned to meet, without saying where or when or offering any other specifics. Even as Kim arrived in Singapore on a special Air China flight Sunday, just hours before Trump, there was still no word in North Korea.

Finally, on Monday morning, the Korean Central News Agency, or KCNA, reported Kim was in Singapore, had met with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and would meet Trump on Tuesday.

Before that, the top news in North Korea had been tremendously mundane, all things considered — a visit by Kim to a seafood restaurant in Pyongyang.

Word does get around, however, and the prospect of a meeting between Kim and Trump had already been on the public's radar. The meeting could have a major and direct impact on their daily lives, so it is only natural that people would want to know. But without a robust and independent media, accurate news is less likely and exaggeration and gossip probably abound.

By North Korean standards, Monday's announcement actually came a bit earlier than usual.

It has often waited until major events end to publish its first reports. News that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had visited North Korea and a big photo of him shaking Kim's hand appeared on the front page of the ruling party newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, the following day.

Though it could mean many things, the relative speed of the reports about Kim travelling to Singapore could be seen as a sign of confidence by the North that the summit will go well. Or it could just be a nod to the intense attention the story is getting nearly everywhere else.

The KCNA report noted the summit is being held "under the great attention and expectation of the whole world."

It also offered a list of Pyongyang's talking points, saying Kim and Trump will exchange "wide-ranging and profound views" on establishing a new relationship, the issue of building a "permanent and durable peace mechanism" and realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.


Talmadge is The AP's Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge

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