Kim Jong Un’s extended trip to Vietnam for meetings with U.S. President Donald Trump this week has seen North Korean officials at home discouraged from drinking alcohol, a Pyongyang-based source told NK News on Tuesday.
The development follows two other sources telling NK News that North Korean citizens had refrained from drinking alcohol during Kim Jong Un’s visit to Beijing in January, citing the leader’s departure from the country as the reason.
“Local people are brought up to shield and protect the leader with their lives (and) while he is away, they can’t do that,” the Pyongyang-based person said on Tuesday.
As a result, while Kim Jong Un is gone, “they should be ‘upholding their morality’ all the more… and hope for his safe return.”
“Apparently, when Kim was away the first time, some officials started partying and causing problems, thus setting a bad example for the people,” the source explained. “Kim found out, resulting in punishment (temporary demotions/reeducation).”
“Since then, officials have become more wary and cautious, and opted to reduce drinking in Kim’s absence,” the person continued, noting that the behavior wasn’t due to an “official order or restriction….but individual and based on fear, basically”.
But while a second person told NK News on Monday that Pyongyang citizens were not drinking “even beer” until Kim Jong Un returns safely from Vietnam, others in the city this week said they had not observed any change in alcohol consumption patterns during the Hanoi summit period.
In January, when Kim Jong Un traveled to Beijing for his unexpected fourth meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, NK News learned that other North Koreans were also abstaining from alcohol consumption.
“It is like when the father leaves the house, the children cannot have fun,” another Pyongyang-based resident told NK News at the time.
“When the father leaves the country, how can the people drink alcohol? They must wait until he is back and safe and they are together as a family… then they can drink the alcohol.”
Another person told NK News that a Pyongyang citizen was in January worried that a hotel staff member in an international hotel might see them drinking alcohol with foreigners, because company regulations mandated that they should not drink while Kim Jong Un was in China.
“All of Korea wasn’t allowed to drink while Kim was in China in order to ‘safeguard the socialist country,’” the person said.
Others NK News spoke to in January said, however, that they had not observed an outright ban on alcohol consumption during Kim’s trip, reinforcing the idea the behavior may only be observable among certain North Korean citizens.
“Even if this is more ‘not the done thing’ than against any explicit rules, this kind of silly loyalty signaling still reflects an extreme political culture more befitting an archaic hermetic monarchy than a modernizing state looking to engage with the world and realize its economic potential,” said Sokeel Park, Korea country director for Liberty in North Korea (LiNK).
“Imagine the faces of British, American or South Korean officials if they were expected not to drink while their leader was abroad!” he said.
But Christopher Green of the Brussels-based International Group said the non-drinking behavior of officials was, however, “no surprise”.
“Their livelihoods are tied to maintaining their political positions, for one thing, so there is a strong coercive element to it,” he said. “Also, the absence of Kim from North Korea really does mean the temporary absence of the decision-making center of the system, which is a real source of risk.”
“Everyone else should work harder as a result… and be sober while doing so.”
Official North Korean state media was after Kim Jong Un’s departure for Hanoi to a large consistent with that principle.
“But I am on my way to work because I want to contribute my part to making Supreme leader happy.”
Another resident echoed the sentiment.
“We can’t survive even for a moment without our respected Marshal,” said another Pyongyang local, Kim Song Suk. “We miss him so much since we heard the news of him traveling to the far-off country.”
Periods of discouraged alcohol consumption in North Korea have emerged with regularity in the past.
Multiple sources also previously told NK News that drinking alcohol is greatly frowned upon during and immediately before two specific leadership anniversaries: the death anniversaries of former leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News
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