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'Ashamed': South Koreans chilled by Kim Jong-un's cuddles

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© ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un share one of their embraces while Kim’s wife, Ri Sol-ju, greets South Korea’s first lady, Kim Jung-sook.

By Benjamin Haas in Seoul, The Guardian

When President Moon Jae-in of South Korea embraced Kim Jong-un with a broad smile on an airport tarmac in Pyongyang, a crowd of North Koreans released a deafening cheer. But in Seoul, Choi Hyo-joo winced at the display of affection, troubled that the ruler of a brutal regime was treated so warmly.

“It’s embarrassing – Kim Jong-un is a dictator who threatened the world to bring them to the negotiating table,” Choi said. “It drives me crazy. We can talk to him without undermining our values.”

While the 27-year-old graduate student supports engagement with North Korea, the sugary nature of Moon and Kim’s relationship jarred with many in the South. Only about 21% of South Koreans hold a favourable view of Kim, according to recent polling.

But in order to win over the public the South Korean government has launched a campaign highlighting Moon’s close relationship with Kim.

The government has set up photo spots for citizens who want to recreate Moon and Kim’s stroll along a wooden bridge during their first meeting in April in the border village of Panmunjom. Seoul’s City Hall was draped in a large photo of the two leaders during their first meeting in April.

“I don’t think [Kim] is being accurately portrayed,” said Jang Eun-joong, a 29-year-old technology start-up CEO. “We shouldn’t be beautifying him and using positive words to describe him just because he seems to be wanting peace now all of a sudden.”

Jang pointed to cartoon depictions of Kim aimed at children as a worrying sign that he would be seen as friendly. He could not recall if the cartoon was backed by officials.

North Korea runs massive prison camps that hold between 80,000 and 120,000 political prisoners, according to a United Nations inquiry that compiled evidence of a raft of crimes against humanity. The UN commission cited “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation”.

The targets included people the regime considered a threat to the political system and leadership of North Korea.

Despite this there are signs the government’s spin campaign is working. Kim scored a 4.06 on a “likeability” scale from 1 to 10, according to a 5 July poll from the Asan Institute, up from 0.88 in November 2017. He scored higher than the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and President Xi Jinping of China.

“I have a hard time understanding Moon’s motives in cozying up to a dictator, especially given his background as human rights lawyer,” said Park Hwee-rhak, a politics professor at Kookmin University in Seoul. “This approach is very risky and dangerous, and the current government is being taken advantage of by North Korea.

“Moon’s portrayal of Kim as a good guy also informs how other leaders, like Trump, approach him,” Park added. “I feel ashamed when I see them strolling on a bridge in the woods like they’re old friends – it humanises a man who treats his own people as less than human.”

Far-right groups have even gone so far as to protest against the summit, gathering under a banner in downtown Seoul that said: “No to SK-NK Summit That Benefit Kim Jong-un”. Some carried signs that called for Donald Trump to carry out military strikes on North Korea. Another sign said “Let’s Bomb North Korea” next to a cartoon of Trump pointing at onlookers.

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World - U.S. Daily News: 'Ashamed': South Koreans chilled by Kim Jong-un's cuddles
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