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View more articles by Christina Lee
Christina Lee is an NK News contributor based in Washington DC. She previously worked as Communications Manager at NK News.
If you started out 2018 tuning into Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, where he called for better relations with the South and the country’s perfection of its missile and nuclear program, then this year of unprecedented summits and diplomacy should not have come as much of a surprise.
In total, we’ve published more than 1,300 news articles, investigations, analyses, and galleries on our NK News and NK Pro services this year. From among them, we have compiled the ten most-read articles of 2018.
This year, our readers were keen to know each new development that took place in the streak of summits, particularly unusual flights potentially carrying the leader, surprise meetings, and any sign of potential conflict and controversy that could jeopardize the meeting.
Be sure to tune into our live tweets and in-depth coverage of the upcoming New Year’s speech as well, where Kim Jong Un is likely to reveal more insights about North Korea’s domestic plans and foreign policy goals for the upcoming year.
On an early morning on July 7, a U.S. Air Force cargo plane left Pyongyang’s Sunan International airport for Yokota air base. No one knew what the purpose of this flight was or what it was carrying, but the timing suggested it may have been transporting the remains of POWs and MIA, given Mike Pompeo’s stay to Pyongyang that day and the fact that the repatriation of soldiers’ remains was something President Trump and Kim Jong Un discussed in the Singapore Summit. A few weeks later, a U.S. official clarified it was just a “routine” flight to support the State Department and an informed source told NK News it related to pilot changes for Pompeo’s Boeing aircraft.
In November, Koryo Tours manager Rich Beal posted a photo showing North Korean soldiers at the Joint Security Area donning entirely new outfits: padded camouflage winter uniforms with sunglasses, and earpiece and armbands. Certainly a stark contrast to their old uniforms!
This year, we got a good glimpse of Kim Jong Un’s private jet, the IL-62 presidential jet, which appeared in aviation trackers around the time of the Singapore summit. It turned out not to be carrying Kim Jong Un, however, instead transporting his sister while he flew on an Air China Jumbo Jet.
We also have a t-shirt featuring the jet on our holiday shop: https://www.nkshop.org/product/iluyshin-il-62m-t-shirt/
Remember when Red Velvet performed in Pyongyang? The April 1 concert, called “Spring is Coming”, was the first performance by South Korean musicians in North Korea since June 2008, and brought flashbacks to the pre-President Park years when inter-Korean performances were a semi-regular occurrence.
The path to the Singapore Summit was not an easy one, paved with disappointments, cancellation, and confrontations. After U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang to have talks with North Korean officials, the DPRK expressed disappointment at the U.S.’s “cancerous demands” and that denuclearization should be approached step-by-step.
A few days before the landmark inter-Korean summit, a tour bus crashed in North Korea, resulting in the death of 32 Chinese nationals and four North Koreans. The Kaesong-Pyongyang highway, which was the route the bus was taking, was undergoing extensive renovation work in preparation for the summit.
While a major cult of personality exists for the first two Kims, we had yet to see an official portrait or solo statue of Kim Jong Un. That is, until the Cuba-DPRK summit in November. In this Cuban media coverage of the meeting in Pyongyang, we see what appears to be the country’s first official portrait of Kim Jong Un, hinting at a major development in a personality cult of his own.
In this fascinating read, Greg Noone digs into the story behind an abandoned conservation project approved by Kim Jong Il, where Russian and North Korean researchers searched for signs of Siberian tigers that may still remain on the Korean peninsula.
Another “unusual flight” story that made it on the list. A new Air China flight movement out of Pyongyang’s Sunan International Airport raised questions about how Kim Jong Un would be flying to Singapore for his summit with Trump the next day.
Possibly the most surprising story of all was the prelude to Kim Jong Un’s secret Beijing trip. Ahead of his visit to China, the train station that would harbor Kim’s green armored train was blockaded with temporary construction panels to prevent onlookers from seeing the train pass, Daily NK reported. This was Kim Jong Un’s first trip abroad since becoming leader in 2011.
Edited by Oliver Hotham