This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The news of North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un’s failure to reach a disarmament deal at his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam last week is spreading throughout North Korea’s provinces bordering China.
The two leaders abruptly ended their summit when they could not agree on sanctions relief or the pace of North Korean denuclearization.
Since the summit, the U.S. side has said that North Korea wanted removal of all U.S. and international sanctions in exchange for the dismantling of only the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, when intelligence found other nuclear research sites. The North Korean side has said that they only wanted partial sanctions relief in exchange for Yongbyon.
North Korean state media has remained silent on unfavorable news, but in the provinces bordering China, word of the summit’s results are trickling in by word of mouth and rapidly spreading.
“[The news] is spreading in Sinuiju and other areas bordering China,” said a source from North Pyongan province on Sunday in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service.
“[People are talking about] the fruitless outcome of the summit due to the U.S. president’s rejection of our request to lift economic sanctions in exchange for denuclearization,” the source said.
“What people are wondering is why the president did not accept our request when the Highest Dignity offered to close the Yongbyon nuclear facility,” said the source, using a North Korean propaganda title for Kim.
The accounts of what happened in Hanoi that are circulating have been spread by word of mouth and appear contradictory.
“Some say the U.S. is [being stubborn] on purpose, just to tame North Korea, but others are saying the reason the summit failed is because the U.S. already had detailed information about other North Korean nuclear sites and we were not forthcoming [about their existence],” said the source.
“The Highest Dignity spent three days on a train during his difficult trip to Vietnam, only to be internationally humiliated. Now many North Koreans are worried about stronger sanctions by the U.S. because we didn’t give up anything in terms of nuclear [testing sites] and missiles,” the source said.
As the outcome reflects unfavorably on Kim Jong Un, authorities are attempting to stop rumors of the failed summit from spreading, while claiming in state media that it was successful.
A second source, also from North Pyongan, said, “The regional office of the State Security Department is collecting data on the attitude of the public and trying to block the news going around and the [Korean Workers’] Party’s propaganda-filled media does not disclose the fact that the summit broke down. They only emphasize that the Highest Dignity ended this trip to Vietnam on a high note by setting a milestone for world peace,” said the source.
“But the collapse of the summit means the economic sanctions will continue. This is an important issue for the residents and the authorities will not be able to control the mouths and ears of the public.”
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), North Korea’s official news organization, said Tuesday that Kim returned home “after successfully wrapping up his official goodwill visit to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.”
The media outlet made no mention of the results of the summit in its account of Kim’s return, only saying that “he extended warm greetings to all the beloved people,” upon his return.
Reported by Hyemin Son for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.