Olympics inspire hope for increased access to South Korean goods

Kang Mi Jin  |  2018-02-14 16:18
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North Korean residents are reacting with keen interest to media coverage of the visit to South Korea by Kim Jong Un's younger sister Kim Yo Jong, which has included images of her attending events and dinner banquets alongside South Korean President Moon Jae In. Residents in the North had expressed limited interest in the events of weeks past, but it appears that Kim Yo Jong's visit and her delivery of a handwritten note from Kim Jong Un to the South Korean president has sparked the public's curiosity. 

The February 11 issue of the countrys state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun ran a story on Kim's visit on the front page, including images of her with President Moon, shaking hands, walking together, and posing for pictures. The February 12 edition also ran a front-page story with photos of Kim and Moon viewing the Samjiyon Orchestra performance together in Seoul. Residents in North Korea are reportedly reacting with more interest now than for previous high-level North-South meetings.

"Across Pyongyang these days, at train stations and bus stops, everybody is talking about Comrade Kim Yo Jong's visit to South Korea," a high-ranking source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on February 12. "If you see people gathered together anywhere, chances are high that they are talking about Kim Yo Jong." 

According to the source, ordinary people in North Korea are interested in the potential for improving inter-Korean relations if it brings an end to the current crackdown on South Korean products in the markets as well as harsh punishment for viewing South Korean movies and dramas.

"Previously it was all about hostility towards the South, but now with the visit of Kim Jong Un's younger sister, people are saying that the situation has really changed," the source said. "These events have led people to express hope for the day that they can freely buy South Korean products or watch South Korean media."

But some residents are also criticizing the latest thaw in relations, pointing to what they see as hidden intentions behind the outward warmth between the two governments. 

The source said there is some tongue-in-cheek criticism among cadres who say that sending someone as important as Kim Yo Jong as part of the delegation is embarrassingly incoherent and desperately rushed.

People are reportedly also remarking on Kim Yo Jong's swift rise to prominence, saying that it now seems she "holds more power than (Kim Jong Un's wife) Ri Sol Ju," a source in South Pyongan Province said.

"I have heard people talking about how they think Kim Jong Un values his younger sister's more than his wife's opinion, and that he places a special kind of trust in Kim Yo Jong," the source added.

"High-ranking cadres talk about how Ri Sol Ju doesn't appear much in public, and that they believe Kim Yo Jong possesses (comparatively more) influence," he added. "Some senior cadres in particular have remarked that Kim Jong Un's relationship with his sister Kim Yo Jong is much closer than that of Kim Jong Il and his sister Kim Kyong Hui in the past."

*Translated by Colin Zwirko

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