With North Korea’s notorious leader, Kim Jung Un, out of public view for the last month, other high-level North Korean leaders made a surprising and unexpected visit to the south. Three North Korea officials showed up in Seoul on Saturday with almost no notice.
The visit of the high-level North Korean leaders set off a media frenzy of epic proportions. During a lunch between South Korea’s national security adviser Kim Kwan-Jin and director of the North Korean military’s General Political Bureau, Hwang Pyong-So, legions of photographers elbowed their way in to take photos of North Korea’s top military leader shaking hands with the South Korean official.
While in town, the North Korean officials made statements to the effect that come late October or early November, Pyongyang is willing to have high-level meetings with leadership in the south.
North Korea scholars are scratching their heads over the visit, which was the highest level leadership visit to Seoul in North Korea’s history. The visitors included number two and three in national leadership.
“Within my memory… there was never ever such a high-level visit. Never,” North Korean analyst Andrei Kankov from Seoul’s Kookmin University told CNN. Kankov told the network that two of the three visitors “are essentially number two and number three in North Korean official hierarchy.” Aside from them, nobody but Kim himself is higher up.
The official reason the officials gave for showing up was to be there for the closing ceremonies of Saturday’s Asian Games. It was the first visit of any kind of officials to the south in five years.
The astonishing move comes at a time when Kim’s leadership is being questioned. It has been reported that there was a coup in the famously closed-off country sometime in the past few weeks. Because there is no freedom of speech or press in North Korea, it’s not clear if the reports of a coup are accurate.
The typically acrimonious relationship between the democratic south and communist north has been unfriendly recently, making the congenial visit from North Korean leaders even more surprising. Both north and south leaders have been hurling insults at each other recently.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye asked the international community to assist them in “tearing down the world’s last remaining wall of division,” according to the Washington Post. North Korea hurled back that the south is the “eternal traitor” in response.
Despite the previous tension, Saturday’s surprise visit ended in an agreement to have a new round of high-level talks between North Korea and South Korea next month at the latest.