North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is trying hard to present himself as a friendly head of state rather than a brutal dictator with nuclear weapons, but while his charm offensive has worked on some, those who know the man are warning the world not to be fooled.
Kim made his first state visit in March, traveling to Beijing, China, for a secret meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The two leaders recently had another meeting in Dalian, where the two were seen strolling down the beach.
The young despot met his South Korean counterpart at the inter-Korean border in late April. Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shook hands as Kim entered South Korea for the first time. The two held private talks in a garden and even, at one point, hugged one another.
Kim has also met Secretary of State Mike Pompeo twice, once in April and again in early May. In one picture from the most recent trip, the two can be seen laughing while shaking hands. Pompeo said his conversations with Kim were “warm” and “good.”
The North Korean leader has also sought to show signs of goodwill by toning down the bombastic rhetoric for which his country is known, returning three American prisoners arrested on questionable charges and dismantling the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site, a process which is already underway.
One former senior North Korean official who knew Kim before he defected two years ago reminds the world that the young dictator is “very hot-tempered, impulsive and violent.” Ex-North Korean diplomat Thae Yong Ho said in his new book, a memoir of his experiences, that he had high hopes when Kim took over, but those hopes were dashed by his brutality.
After Kim had his uncle executed in 2013, “more than 10,000 people were sent to prisons, mines, or into internal exile,” Thae wrote, the Chosun Ilbo reported Tuesday.
Other high-ranking North Korean defectors have also described atrocities that occurred in the wake of Kim’s murderous rise to power. “My family and I were in disbelief after seeing senior officials I knew being killed with anti-aircraft guns and my kids’ friends being locked up in prison camps,” Ri Jong Ho, a former North Korean official, said in a 2017 interview. (RELATED: North Korean Official Fled As Kim Jong Un Purged Hundreds By Machine Gun Fire)
In his memoirs, Thae also described an incident in 2015 where Kim had the manager of a soft-shelled turtle farm executed because he found several dead turtles during his field inspection. The Daily NK, citing multiple sources in Pyongyang, first reported the incident three years ago, explaining that Kim rebuked everyone present and then had the farm manager executed by a firing squad.
At the launch of his new book, Thae warned the world not to get swept up in Kim’s aggressive charm offensive, which has dramatically swayed public opinion of him in South Korea and elsewhere. The defector has repeatedly stressed that Kim will never give up his nuclear arsenal, arguing that “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” is not possible. (RELATED: Dismantling Of North Korea’s Nuclear Program ‘Simply Not Possible,’ Former North Korean Official Warns)
President Donald Trump will meet Kim on June 12 in Singapore. The Trump administration is approaching talks with North Korea with a “we’ll see what happens” attitude.
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