Koreas mark war anniversary in mood of detente, North drops anti-US rhetoric

PHOTO: AFP

The two Koreas Monday marked their war anniversary in a mood of detente, with Pyongyang dropping its customary anti-US rhetoric and Seoul saying talks have begun on moving the North's artillery back from the tense border.

Pyongyang's tightly controlled official media are normally packed with anti-American invective on June 25, when the North launched a mass invasion of the South in 1950.

But this year proved to be a marked exception in the wake of the historic Singapore summit.

In the South, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said discussions were taking place about relocating Pyongyang's long-range artillery away from their border.

North Korea is estimated to have around 1,000 artillery pieces along the frontier, threatening much of the South's capital Seoul only 50 kilometres (30 miles) away.

The North has long accused the US of provoking the 1950-53 Korean War as part of a plan for global domination and blames it for the division of the peninsula, agreed between Moscow and Washington in the closing days of World War II.

A US-led 16-country United Nations force supported the South in the conflict while China backed the North.

"Every year on this day, our army and people row the boat of memories, full of creed and determination to defend the nation," read a report in the North's state-run Rodong Sinmun.

"What surprised the world even more was... our people's solidarity to annihilate the enemy," it added -- without identifying the enemy by name in any of its coverage.

In stark contrast, all six pages of the newspaper last year were filled with colourful criticisms of the "US imperialists", blaming Americans for "a holocaust in which they massacred countless Koreans in the most brutal and barbarous way".

This year's anniversary comes less than two weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump shook hands at the unprecedented summit in Singapore.

Lessons in loathing at North Korea's museum to 'US atrocity'

  • Every few minutes a new set of visitors arrives at the 'Revenge-Pledging Place' at North Korea's Sinchon Museum, where regime propaganda insists US troops massacred more than 35,000 people during the Korean War.
  • Opposition to the United States is a fundamental cornerstone of Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the North is officially known.
  • Pyongyang says the nuclear arsenal it has spent decades developing, suffering sanctions and isolation as a result, is to defend itself from a possible US invasion.
  • The vilification of the US - and Japan - is constant in the North, from books and films to education centres in Pyongyang and across the country, including the centrepiece museum in Sinchon.
  • It portrays US troops committing a litany of atrocities in the area, their hands gnarled and their features twisted as they drive nails into their defiant victims' heads, crush them to death, or cut off a woman's breast.
  • A volunteer among the group stands up in the concrete amphitheatre, where a mural reads "Let us drive out the Americans and reunify our nation", to issue a vitriolic denunciation of the US.
  • Fists clenched in the air, the crowd responds with unison shouts: "Smash! Smash! Smash!"
  • There is one fundamental problem with this narrative: whatever happened at Sinchon in the autumn of 1950
  • - and the exact details including the true toll are lost to the chaos of conflict - independent researchers say there is no evidence it was carried out by the US.

More virulent forms of anti-US propaganda have been disappearing from the streets of Pyongyang, while images of missile launches and military formations on a prominent site outside the city train station have been replaced with visuals of industry and agriculture.

Analysts say the rare omission of the US in North Korean media coverage of the anniversary may be part of the regime's efforts to maintain the current diplomatic momentum.

"It's remarkable," said Peter Ward, a North Korea researcher at Seoul National University. "On this day of all days it's nowhere to be found."

"North Korean anti-Americanism may have popular roots (nourished by decades of agitprop), but what we see is what the state wants us to," he added.

Across the border at a war anniversary ceremony in Seoul, Prime Minister Lee acknowledged that the conflict began "due to North Korea's invasion".

But Lee noted the diplomatic rapprochement on the peninsula, with two inter-Korean summits preceding the meeting in Singapore -- after which Trump announced the suspension of joint military exercises with the South, the US's security ally.

In Singapore Kim and Trump signed a joint statement in which Pyongyang committed to "work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula".

But critics have said the encounter between the two mercurial leaders was more style than substance, producing a document short on details about the key issue of the North's atomic weapons.

When Trump met Kim: A Singapore story

  • Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un made history Tuesday, becoming the first sitting US and North Korean leaders to meet and shake hands, as they seek to end a tense decades-old nuclear stand-off.
  • It was a meeting many would have thought unimaginable just months ago.
  • The two men strode toward each other and shared the momentous handshake beneath the white-washed walls of an upscale hotel in neutral Singapore, before sitting down for a half-day of meetings with major ramifications for the world.
  • Prior to the meeting held at Capella Hotel in Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, Trump had said that he would know "within the first minute", whether any agreement would be possible.
  • The watching world is not sure if it's the start of a beautiful, budding "bromance", but here's a look at how the world's most talked-about first date unfolded.
  • Their handshake reportedly lasted for 12 long seconds (though still 7 seconds shorter than his memorable handshake with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe).
  • Trump also reached out to touch the North Korean leader on his right shoulder.
  • According to a body language expert Karen Leong, the first 60 seconds showed both leaders seeking to take charge in their encounter. US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un both sought to project a sense of command. "Their handshake seems to be between peers," she said.
  • "Trump seemed to be very aware of this, that he needed to up the stakes and be seen that he is the leader."
  • Trump did most of the talking, and Kim appeared to listen attentively, turning to him three times during their walk toward their meeting room.
  • Trump did most of the talking, and Kim appeared to listen attentively, turning to him three times during their walk toward their meeting room.
  • The US President, who is more than twice Kim's age, then appeared to lead the way to the library where they held a one-on-one meeting, placing his hand on the North Korean leader's counterpart's back.
  • Kim also patted the US president' arm, in an attempt to show control over the encounter, said Leong.
  • The leaders appeared to share a few light-hearted moments as they walked down a corridor to the hotel's library.
  • However, Leong said both found it difficult to conceal their nervousness once they were seated, with Trump displaying a slanted smile, and fidgeting with his hands and Kim leaning and staring at the ground.
  • As they sat down for their one-on-one meeting, the US leader predicted a "terrific relationship" with Kim.
  • Mr Kim then said through a translator: “The way to come to here was not easy.The old prejudices and practices worked as obstacles on our way forward but we overcame all of them and we are here today.”
  • After their closed door one-on-one talks, the pair continued with explanded bilateral talks with their delegation. Trump was flanked by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton.
  • Sitting across the table from the US team were North Korean leader Kim, Kim Yong-chol, first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s central committee, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Ri Su-yong, Workers’ Party vice chairman on international affairs.
  • Thereafter, the two leaders attended a working lunch with their respective delegations at Capella Hotel.
  • On the lunch menu: Main courses include beef short rib confit, served with potato dauphinois and steamed broccoli; sweet and sour crispy pork and fried rice with an "XO" chilli sauce as well as a Korean dish called "daegu jorim", which is a soy braised cod fish with radish and Asian vegetables.
  • Post-lunch, Kim and Trump then went for a leisurely stroll around the hotel grounds.
  • He also said talks had gone "better than anybody could have expected", and indicated that they were heading for a "signing", but did not divulge any details of the agreement.
  • During their walk, Trump unexpectedly gave Kim a peek into his super limo, nicknamed "The Beast".
  • But they did not get to hop on to go for a joyride, as commentators had hoped.
  • The pair met to sign an agreement, details of which were not revealed during the signing. Trump said: "We're signing a very important document, pretty comprehensive document, and we've had a really great time together, a great relationship... More will be discussed at a press conference soon."
  • When asked what he learnt about Kim, Trump said that he is "a very talented man", and that "he loves his country very much".
  • Mr Trump also described Mr Kim as a "very worthy, very smart negotiator".
  • According to sources after the signing, the two leaders pledged to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, while Washington committed to provide security guarantees for its old enemy.
  • The signatures of US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. Trump said he expected the denuclearization process to start "very, very quickly".
  • Kim places a hand on Trump's back as they leave the room after the signing.
  • After the signing, the pair walked out for another round of photo-taking.
  • Reports say Mr Kim departed Singapore on a chartered Air China flight at 11.20pm and midnight on Tuesday, while Trump left on Air Force One earlier at 6.25pm.
  • At 4pm, Trump held a press conference on the summit outcome and details on the agreement signed.
  • "We signed a joint statement that is an unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of North Korea," he says.
  • The Capella Hotel on Singapore's resort island of Sentosa, provided the backdrop for the historic summit.
  • Trump's motorcade arriving at Sentosa on Tuesday (June 12) morning.
  • Setting the stage ready for the handshake that will be seen across the world.

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