One unexpected benefit from the recent thaw in relations with North Korea has been the Hermit Kingdom’s removal of most anti-U.S. propaganda from cities and towns.
The vulgar anti-American posters have been replaced with largely positive messages praising the new relationship with South Korea.
In their place are cheery messages touting praising the prospects for Korean reunification and the declaration Kim signed in April with South Korean President Moon Jae-in promising “lasting peace,” according to reports.
Still the most isolated country in the world, very few North Koreans have access to news and information from the outside world. So state propaganda plays a huge role in shaping their views.
Murals, banners and posters displayed throughout the capital, Pyongyang, have for decades depicted the U.S. as a brutal, imperialist aggressor hell-bent on destroying the North Korean regime. South Korea and Japan were also frequently targeted as willing allies of the U.S.
But things started to take an Orwellian turn in the run-up to Kim’s June 12 summit with President Donald Trump, with the old posters vanishing since then.
“All the anti-American posters I usually see around Kim Il-sung Square and at shops, they’ve all just gone,” Rowan Beard, a tour manager at Young Pioneer Tours, told Reuters. “In five years working in North Korea, I’ve never seen them completely disappear before.”
Infamous posters and postcards showing North Korean missiles on their way to Washington are a thing of the past. Also removed are the anti-American trinkets that used to be sold to tourists as souvenirs. In their place are items showing themes of Korean reunification.
The change extends to the country’s government-controlled media. News reports that once depicted the U.S. as hostile, and its involvement in places like Syria as proof of imperialism, are no longer critical. The Financial Times said the main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, hasn’t featured a direct attack on Trump since March, when he agreed to meet with Kim.
The paper was filled with pictures of the two together at the summit, and is no longer reporting anti-U.S. news. Other international events, like Kim’s visit last week to China, are being reported right away, rather than after a waiting period, and in more neutral language.
“This is fascinating,” Peter Ward, North Korea expert and writer for NKNews, told the BBC. “Generally speaking, neutral or positive coverage is normally reserved for countries that Pyongyang has friendly relations with.”
The kids still sing anti-American school songs and memorize anti-American poetry, so it would be an exaggeration to think that all is sweetness and light between the two nations. But North Korea may have turned a corner. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Kim Jong-un has committed his regime to more openness. How far and how fast that openness will be manifested in increased contact and trade with the outside world remains to be seen.
There are a lot of important people in North Korea who have a lot invested in a closed society. And there are more who simply like the way that things are and will resist change. Kim is taking a huge gamble that he can hold his regime and country together during this transition.
Whether he can keep his head long enough to see it through is anyone’s guess.