South Korea’s Moon Jae-in makes unprecedented mass games speech

Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un raise held hands aloftImage copyright
Reuters/Pyongyang Press Corps

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Moon Jae-in, left, is on a three-day visit to Pyongyang to talk with Kim Jong-un

President Moon Jae-in became the first South Korean leader to give a speech to the North Korean public when he spoke at the Mass Games in Pyongyang on Wednesday evening.

In his seven-minute long speech, he said the two countries should “become one”, as they were before the war.

Mr Moon is on a three-day visit to Pyongyang where he signed a landmark agreement with Kim Jong-un.

The Arirang Games are one of Pyongyang’s biggest propaganda events.

Tens of thousands of people take part in intricately choreographed dance and gymnastic displays, which tell stories of Korean history and myths. This year they are celebrating North Korea’s 70th anniversary.

Both leaders received a standing ovation from 150,000 thousand citizens when they entered the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang.

An image of North KoreaImage copyright
AFP

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An image of the two leaders was projected on to cards being held up by performers

“I propose that we should completely end the past 70 years of hostility and take a big stride of peace to become one again,” said Mr Moon in his speech, which was broadcast live in South Korea though not in North Korea.

He also brought up the topic of denuclearisation during his speech, calling for nuclear weapons to be removed “permanently”.

Andray Abrahamian, a fellow at the Pacific Forum told the BBC: “The speech was clearly tailored to the North Korean audience.”

Mr Abrahamian adds that the mood at the stadium would have been “incredibly emotional”, saying that the “performances combined with Moon’s speech was designed to tug on the heartstrings of the public”.

“It really is an emotional appeal by Moon for support in North Korea. I’m sure now his popularity in the North will be unprecedented.”

North Koreans cheer for South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the May Day Stadium on September 19, 2018 in PyongyangImage copyright
Getty Images

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Around 150,000 spectators attended the event involving, which also involves tens of thousands of dancers and acrobats

President Moon Jae-in speaks at the performance in PyongyangImage copyright
Reuters/Pyongyang Press Corps

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President Moon Jae-in, sitting next to Kim Jong-un and their wives, delivered a speech in which he spoke of moving towards a “new future together”

Moon Jae-in talks to a small North Korean childImage copyright
Reuters/Pyongyang Press Corps

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Mr Moon and Mr Kim both received flowers from children before the start of the hour-long performance

North Koreans perform gymnastic and artistic during a South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visit at the May Day Stadium on September 19, 2018 in PyongyangImage copyright
Getty Images

The Arirang Games, which had not been held for several years, are a significant part of North Korea’s domestic propaganda, stressed uniformity, a shared history and the almost divine status of the leadership.

Rights groups have in the past accused North Korea of forcing thousands of children to take part.

“The strict training routine for the Mass Games… is dangerous to children’s health and well-being,” said a 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry report on human rights in North Korea.

The report also added that the games attracted a large number of tourists “who are often unaware of the human rights violations endured by children who are compelled to participated”.

In a photo taken on September 19, 2018 performers dance during a Image copyright
AFP

North Koreans perform gymnastic and artistic during a South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visit at the May Day Stadium on September 19, 2018Image copyright
Getty Images

Mass Games performance in PyongyangImage copyright
AFP/Getty

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Performers used placards to create intricate images

A mural of shaking hands is displayed during a Image copyright
AFP

Mass Games performance in PyongyangImage copyright
AFP/Getty

Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in at the performance in PyongyangImage copyright
AFP/Pyongyang Press Corps

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The event was reportedly modified slightly for the South Korean visitors

The May Day stadium lights up during Mass GamesImage copyright
Reuters

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The May Day stadium was alight during the Mass Games

In a highly symbolic move, the Korean leaders made a visit to Mount Paektu to conclude the three-day summit.

The mountain holds a central place in Korean mythology and features in South Korea’s national anthem and various North Korean propaganda.

President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pose for photographs on the top of Mt. PaektuImage copyright
Reuters

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Mr Kim, Mr Moon and their partners are seen on top of Mt Paektu

Mr Moon also appears to have sparked comment in North Korea by giving a full 90-degree bow to those who had greeted him at the airport.

One North Korean defector told a local radio station that the 90-degree bow was a way North Korea’s citizens had to greet their leaders, not the other way round.

He added that the deep bow would have a deep impact on the North’s citizens.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in (R) and first lady Kim Jung-sook (L) bow as they leave to Seoul at the Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea, 20 September 2018Image copyright
EPA

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Mr Moon and his wife bowed once again as they prepared to leave Pyongyang

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