SEOUL: North Korean leader and known heavy smoker Kim Jong Un refrained from lighting up during a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in, but enthusiastically accepted every offer of a drink.
Kim has often been seen with a cigarette dangling from his fingers -- riding a subway train, visiting hospitals or schools, even when inspecting a ballistic missile. In 2012 he was seen holding a cigarette while watching a sports event with his pregnant wife Ri Sol Ju.
But Kim was not seen smoking throughout Friday’s headline-grabbing summit, neither indoors nor out, even during an extended conversation with Moon at an outdoor table where an ashtray had been provided for him.
"Chairman Kim did not smoke even when there were no prying eyes from journalists and photographers around him," a Moon aide was quoted by local media as telling journalists. "This was probably a gesture of respect towards President Moon who is much older than him," he said.
Kim also gestured to Moon to step into a lift ahead of him, with Moon later describing him as "well-mannered" and "straightforward and candid". At the summit the two men pledged in a blaze of publicity to pursue denuclearisation and a peace treaty -- although analysts point out that previous similar pledges have come to naught and the North made no explicit commitment to give up its nuclear weapons.
Kim drank heartily at a dinner after the event, the reports said on Monday. "When South Koreans approached him with a drink, he stood up from his seat, let them pour for him and drained it all in one shot," according to one participant.
"He never turned it down, whoever came," even though the "munbaeju" liquor was 40 percent alcohol. Kim’s passion for basketball -- former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman has visited Pyongyang several times -- was confirmed when he suggested the two Koreas focus on it for sports events rather than football.
"Why don’t we have basketball exchanges first instead of Seoul-Pyongyang football exchange?" Kim reportedly told Moon, lamenting the loss of a former North Korean star centre described as the world’s tallest player.
"When we had Ri Myong Hun, we were stronger than the South but after his retirement, we became weak," Kim said. Kim was described as taking everyone by surprise, including his own sister and close aide Kim Yo Jong, when he promised to reset Pyongyang time to synchronise it with Seoul.
"This is news to me as well," the sister told Moon’s top aide Im Jong-seok when he asked whether she had been aware of the decision in advance. A Realmeter opinion poll after the meeting showed that 65 percent of South Koreans believed the North is willing to denuclearise, while 28 percent do not. The figures were a complete reversal from beforehand, when 78 percent distrusted the North’s promises and 14 percent trusted them.