North Korean resident reacts to Hanoi summit

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi. Image: SBS

Following the news from the Hanoi summit between Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, Daily NK conducted a short phone interview on February 28 with a local resident in North Korea, whose location has been redacted for security reasons.

The following is a transcript of the interview.

Daily NK: Are you aware that no agreement was reached at the DPRK-U.S. summit in Hanoi?

North Korean resident: How would we know that [here in North Korea]? If the authorities don’t tell us, we don’t know.

Daily NK: The two leaders met but it seems there was a major difference in position. What do you think about that?

North Korean resident: I wouldn’t have been hopeful at all if this had been Kim Jong Il but I can’t deny, at least on some level, that once I saw Kim Jong Un sit down with the American president I thought maybe we were entering a new political era. I didn’t blindly believe it or anything; I just had a kind of faint hope deep inside that I couldn’t completely ignore.

I got my hopes up that things would go well this time, so this is definitely a letdown.

Daily NK: It looks like an agreement is a long way off.

North Korean resident: Even if they agree to normalize immediately, that’s just what they say on the surface. Unless we change our system first, everything will stay the same.

Honestly, people here in North Korea have been confused from the onset regarding the potential for normalized relations with the U.S. Any improvement or normalization of relations between our countries is just hot air.

But people were hopeful for improved relations because they thought that would bring sanctions relief, since most feel that America is behind them.

Personally I was skeptical though. It’s been like this for so long it just is what it is.

Daily NK: But the sanctions are connected to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korean resident: To show we are sincere about dismantling our nuclear facilities, we could have done partial closures. But [North Korea] will never give up its nuclear program. How do you throw away nuclear weapons when you put everything into it? No way.

This is my opinion, but even if they allowed partial outside inspections, they’ll always hide [weapons/technology] in other places. The nuclear program is here to stay.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump at dinner together in Hanoi on February 27, 2019. Image: KCNA

Daily NK: What do you think about the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea? Do you think they should withdraw?

North Korean resident: I don’t think they will. I think the U.S. military will continued to shield South Korea. The U.S. and South Korea don’t see their withdrawal as an option, and the North Korean people will continue to see that as a barrier to unification. I don’t foresee North Koreans changing their thinking on that.

Daily NK: Do you think the United States could possibly recognize North Korea as a normal state?

North Korean resident: Recognize us as normal country? I don’t think North Korean people really think about that. Whether they recognize us or not, we’re a UN member state.

Daily NK: A delegation of top North Korean officials in Vietnam for the summit this week visited the new Vinfast automobile factory complex.

North Korean resident: I think most people here are aware that Vietnam used to be really poor and now they’re doing much better than us. People here would really support that kind of reform. The issue is whether there are countries that want to invest in North Korea. There’s a lot of doubt about that.

Daily NK: The two sides left open the possibility of meeting again in the future. Do you have anything you would like to convey to Kim Jong Un before that time?

North Korean resident: The people can’t change anything no matter what we say. But if I were an optimist, I guess I’d say that I wish our political system would follow the international order. But I’m still dubious that we could readily change the hereditary successive leadership.