PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea is stepping up a new loyalty campaign as leader Kim Jong Un prepares for his second summit with President Donald Trump.
The campaign began last month with the introduction of a song in praise of the nation’s flag.
A video now being aired on state-run television to promote the song — called “Our National Flag” — shows repeated images of the flag being raised at international sports competitions and being formed by a sea of people holding up colored lengths of cloth at a parade and rally on Kim Il Sung Square. Other images show recent improvements in the economy and standard of living, a reflection of a current government policy shift that focuses on development and prosperity.
The video is a departure from the tone of the propaganda that dominated just two years ago, when tensions with Washington were escalating and the focus was on North Korea’s successful missile tests.
In the summer of 2017, the country’s most popular musical group, the all-female Moranbong Band, released “The Song of the Hwasong Rocket” to commemorate the successful launch of North Korea’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. They also performed at concerts with big-screen images of the ICBM behind them.
The new video incorporates imagery from the most recent mass games event, which was staged last September to mark the country’s 70th anniversary. It briefly shows troops at attention during a military parade and fighter jets creating smoke trails in the national colors of blue, red and white. But it also is interspersed with shots of civilians marching at the same parade, clips of new high-rise apartments in the capital, Pyongyang, fireworks displays and rows of students in their school uniforms.
Lyrics to “Our National Flag” have been distributed widely. Large posters showing the flag and the lyrics are being displayed in factories.
The song opens with the lines, “As we watch our blue-red banner flying sky high, our hearts are bursting with the blood of patriotism. We feel the breath of our nation as the flag strongly flaps in the wind. The flag as important as life carries the fate of our people. We will love the shining flag of our nation. Please fly until the end of this world.”
A note above one poster seen by The Associated Press urged workers at the Kim Jong Suk Textile Factory in Pyongyang to study the song closely.
Coming after years of what had seemed to be deepening hostility, Kim’s outreach to Washington and his Chinese and South Korean neighbors presents a bit of a conundrum for North Korea’s propaganda chiefs.
Few details of Kim’s negotiations with Trump over the future of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal have been made public in the North. The official media have instead focused on how Kim has been welcomed on the world stage and asserted that he is leading the way to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
But the nationalist call for unity and the less-militaristic message of the new video are in keeping with an effort in North Korea to dial back its public displays of overtly anti-U.S. propaganda and redirect attention to Kim’s current priority of mobilizing the entire country behind improving the economy.
Kim unveiled that shift in his New Year’s address last year, opening the door to a stunning series of summits with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and, last June, with Trump in Singapore.
Kim has since made some big strides with Beijing and Seoul toward undercutting support for the U.S.-backed sanctions that have constrained his development plans.
Though little progress has been made on Washington’s main concern, denuclearization, Trump announced during his State of the Union address on Wednesday that he will meet Kim again in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28.
Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report. Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge.