'He is just a human being' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 29, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 29, 2018

'He is just a human being'

South Koreans fascinated by Kim Jong Un

South Koreans yesterday pored over every detail of a historic summit in the Demilitarized Zone, transfixed by an extraordinary charm offensive by the North's leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim's public appearance at the summit, beamed live to millions in the south, was for many the first prolonged exposure to an authoritarian figure revered in his secretive nation but shrouded in mystery.

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South Koreans and the world have long viewed him with a mixture of ridicule and fear, becoming used to the sight of him presiding over missile launches and military parades, but it was a very different Kim that took to the world stage on Friday.

The 30-something leader was on his best behaviour, frequently flashing a smile, making humourous remarks and patting children as tenderly as any election-seeking politician in the West.

"I heard Kim Jong Un making a joke and hearing that made me realise that he is also just a human being," Choi Hyun-ah, a 24-year-old events planner, told AFP.

Kim was "no longer a hermit", the Korea Times said in the headline of its editorial, adding he had shown himself capable of "showmanship" with his impromptu invitation to the South's President Moon Jae-in to hop briefly over the border to the North himself.

Kim rapidly got into his stride, reducing the South Korean delegation to giggles with banter about noodles from the North and seeming playful at times, deadly serious at others.

"It was very, very weird to hear Kim Jong Un's voice on TV," said Kim Kyung-ah, a 32-year-old mother in Seoul. "I mean, I always knew that he existed. But today was the first time where I felt 'Oh my God, Kim Jong Un is a real person'," she told the Korea Herald.

South Koreans were also fascinated by Kim's wife Ri Sol Ju and his powerful sister Kim Yo Jong, who spent much of the day at her brother's side.

Kim's sister - who acted as his envoy to the South's Winter Olympics in February - broke into a broad grin while greeting Moon, with officials later revealing she had blushed when the president said she had become a celebrity.

At one point Ri was the top search topic on South Korean internet portals, with users describing her as "a natural beauty", "humble and well-mannered" and "graceful".

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