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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Friday’s inter-Korean summit has been welcomed by residents inside North Korea and in the Chinese borderlands region, multiple sources told NK News on Monday.
And while Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in’s Friday commitment towards denuclearization and Sunday’s sudden Pyongyang timezone change might be seen to contradict state ideology, sources said no negative questions have been raised in public.
“Generally people were starved for information on Friday and Saturday before (state media) published,” an anonymous foreign resident in Pyongyang told NK News on Monday.
But after details were revealed in North Korea’s state newspapers and broadcast on state TV, interest in summit outcomes reportedly grew sharply.
“In the capital people from all walks of life have been seen closely reading newspapers in large numbers at designated places meant for propaganda posters and newspapers,” another informed source said on Monday.
State media presented the summit as a “historic meeting with President Moon to build reconciliation, unity, peace in the Peninsula.”
“People are very much happy to have this,” the informed source continued. “There’s a general feeling that people are taking it in a very good way.”
The anonymous foreign resident agreed: “Afterwards the locals were very excited and welcoming of the declaration.”
“Some (even) thought the Kaesong economic zone would reopen.”
And in the northeast of China, locals involved in trade with the North also expressed positive reactions.
“We welcome the news of the leaders of the North and South Korea finally meeting again, it was a really special moment, I didn’t believe it at first,” one local quoted a business person in the region as saying Monday.
“We as Chinese-Koreans are pleased because peace between North and South will bring peace to the entire region and more trade and business for North East China.”
Given how strongly embedded nuclear weapons are in North Korea’s domestic propaganda and constitution, it was on Friday uncertain whether Pyongyang would publicize the joint statement’s interest in “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” to its citizens.
State media has often completely avoided mentioning historic pledges to denuclearize and, for unexplained reasons, chose not to publish the joint statement which emerged from 2007’s inter-Korean summit.
But Saturday’s Rodong Sinmun printed the joint statement, which included reference to seeking a denuclearized Korean peninsula, in full – as did state television and the English-language Pyongyang Times newspaper.
How, then, did locals respond to the apparent change in government line?
“There were no specific reactions to denuking,” said the anonymous foreign resident.
“(This is) probably due to the use of the phrase ‘complete denuclearization of the peninsula,’ which in the minds of locals still shifts responsibility to the U.S., as there was no explicit commitment from DPRK to take specific action.”
The resident added that because follow-up commitments – which include plans to allow international observers to the dismantling of its nuclear test site – have not yet been revealed, “for the locals, this is little more than a vague political phrase.”
In addition, the source added that: “I (also) heard that the U.S. must first remove nuclear submarines, but generally people didn’t go deeper on this topic.”
However, the other informed Pyongyang source said that North Korean citizens wouldn’t be expected to publicly question such apparent changes in policy, even on a major issue like nuclear weapons.
“Everything comes from the top leadership,” the source said. “Anything said by the Supreme leader will be accepted.”
And longer term, the foreign resident said he understood from locals that: “nukes won’t be needed if the tension goes away and a peace treaty is signed, but it doesn’t seem to be something they want to say out loud.”
The surprise news that the DPRK will return to Korean Standard Time is also being welcomed in some quarters.
“I don’t know why they changed their time zone – to be more patriotic and anti-Japanese or something – but it just makes business and keeping time a hassle,” a businessperson in the China-DPRK borderlands area complained on Monday of the original change in 2015.
“It’s just really annoying for everyone working with North Korea.”
But given that the creation of Pyongyang Time was originally done for nationalistic reasons, in response to “Japanese imperialists…depriving Korea of even its standard time” in the colonial era, how does the sudden change add-up to citizens in Pyongyang?
“They say the first time change was to differentiate DPRK from Japan..but that it the end, unification with South is more important than Japan,” a foreign worker in Pyongyang told NK News.
Overall, it seems that some are hopeful of what Friday’s summit and the recently declared changes could bring.
“I think its good if they can make peace and not stop the nuclear testing and aggression,” said a Chinese-Korean worker in Yanji. “We are all one ethnicity and should get along as one family.”
Problems, however, could still emerge when the realities of negotiations with the U.S. become clear.
“Generally, it seems people are relieved and see it as a major step towards lasting peace, but don’t really have any idea what should happen afterwards, and often don’t realize that this doesn’t affect UNSC sanctions.”
Sources declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of speaking to media from inside and around North Korea.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News