In principle, it’s hard to argue with the New York Times’ assessment of Kim Jong Un’s sister and her appearance at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“Flashing a sphinx-like smile and without ever speaking in public, Ms. Kim [Yo Jong] managed to outflank Mr. Trump’s envoy to the Olympics, Vice President Mike Pence, in the game of diplomatic image-making,” the Times wrote.
It’s hard to tell what Kim’s smile means and impossible to quantify whether it’s true. But the mainstream media were fascinated with the only sister of the leader of the Hermit Kingdom.
Her hair and dress were analyzed, according to the New York Times piece. Her approach to the Incheon airport was covered on TV. A message she wrote in a guestbook at the presidential palace on Saturday – that she hoped “Pyeongyang and Seoul get closer in our people’s hearts,” led social media to “light up with analysis of her peculiar handwriting.”
She talked to people and seemed human, the Times said.
“Her quietly friendly approach while in South Korea – photographers repeatedly captured her smiling – seemed to endear her to some observers.
“When the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, decided to send a large delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea this month, the world feared he might steal the show.”
“If that was indeed his intention, he could not have chosen a better emissary than the one he sent: his only sister, Kim Yo-Jong, whom news outlets in the South instantly called ‘North Korea’s Ivanka,’ likening her influence to that of Ivanka Trump on her father, President Trump.”
Kim showed up at all the right places and said all the right things, the Times said, but the Trump administration utterly failed the PR test.
“Ms. Kim attracted attention wherever she turned up – at the opening ceremony, in the stands at the Olympic debut of the unified Korean women’s ice hockey team, and at a performance in Seoul by a North Korean art troupe,” the Times wrote.
“But Mr. Pence drew the greatest reaction for where he did not appear: most pointedly, at a dinner [South Korean President Moon Jae-in] hosted before the opening ceremony. That meant that he avoided spending much time with the North Korean delegation, including Kim Yong Nam, the country’s ceremonial head of state.”
It wasn’t so much Pence was disrespecting the North Koreas, the Times said it learned from a pool report issued during the vice president’s flight out of South Korea to Alaska. It was that he was ignoring them.
It even found the obligatory Obama State Department official to complain about the visit.
“Mr. Pence,” the Times reported. “is playing ‘right into North Korea’s hands by making it look like the U.S. is straying from its ally and actively undermining efforts for inter-Korean relations,’ said Mintaro Oba, a former diplomat at the State Department specializing in the Koreas, who now works as a speechwriter in Washington.
“Ms. Kim, on the other hand, ‘is a very effective tip of the spear for the North Korean charm offensive.’”
It then quoted a history professor from the University of Connecticut saying the fact Pence and his wife did not stand when the unified team came in “’was a new low in a bullying type of American diplomacy.’”
But, according to the Times, that was basically the purpose of the visit.
Pence “came with an old message – that the United States would continue to ratchet up ‘maximum sanctions’ until the North dismantled its nuclear arsenal – while Ms. Kim “delivered messages of reconciliation as well as an unexpected invitation from her brother to the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, to visit Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.”