In June 2018, a historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump took place, the first time a sitting U.S. president met face-to-face with a North Korean leader.
Alek Sigley an Australian student who studied at Kim Il Sung University, was in Pyongyang at the time and said there was immense interest in the summit among locals, who followed the extensive coverage of the big event on North Korea’s state-run media.
In the days leading up to the summit, Sigley said he saw long lines of people on the streets of Pyongyang waiting to collect their copies of the daily newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, which serves as the chief organ of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. Sigley said he also had conversations with his North Korean classmates, who expressed hope that better relations with the United States could lead to sanctions relief and perhaps a peace treaty with South Korea to formally end the war.
The day after the summit, photos of Trump and Kim appeared on the front page of the Rodong Sinmun, and a documentary about the summit was featured another day later on North Korea’s state-owned broadcaster, Korean Central Television.
Sigley asked his North Korean roommate at the time how locals were reacting to the outcome of the summit. He told Sigley that they viewed it as a success on the part of their leader but were still awaiting actual change, particularly in sanctions. “People were still quite skeptical,” Sigley told ABC News.
“But then I noticed, after some time, there started to be quite a change in attitude.” In the days after the summit, Sigley said the state media toned down the anti-U.S. rhetoric and even some anti-American propaganda posted in prominent places around central Pyongyang were taken down. “There was a slogan board that said, ‘If the U.S. imperialists strike us again, we will wipe them from the face of the earth.’ That slogan board was removed,” Sigley said.
“There was another slogan board that had a picture of the White House being obliterated,” he added. “That one was taken down actually before the summit happened.” Sigley was also surprised by the impact the summit had on the attitudes of his North Korean teachers and classmates, who all described it as a “new era” and “the end” of decades of animosity with the United States. It was the first time Sigley saw some “genuine hope” that U.S.-North Korea relations could improve, he said.
Since the second Trump-Kim summit that took place in February in Vietnam? “I can still see a lot of the, like, distrust of Americans, which is historical, you know, because they remember the war,” Sigley told ABC News. “But there was more optimism than I’d ever seen before.”
[Read full ABC News article]