A South Korean presidential aide told Kim Jong-un to stop smoking and got away with it
Kim’s wife stepped in to defuse the tense situation
By Oh Young-jin
Top presidential aide Chung Eui-yong advised North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to stop smoking during a dinner Kim hosted for Chung visiting Pyongyang as President Moon Jae-in’s top envoy early last month.
Chung’s advice made the atmosphere at the head table in the banquet tense at least for a moment when the face of Kim Yong-chul, the North’s top intelligence officer, hardened in displeasure by Chung’s uncalled-for action.
It was Ri Sol-ju, the North’s first lady, who cheerfully clapped her hands and said, “He doesn’t listen when I ask him to quit smoking.” That defused the tension. The young leader himself did not mind Chung’s behaviour.
Japan’s Asahi Shimbun reported this account recently, quoting knowledgeable sources, about what happened at the March 5 banquet.
Kim, the North Korean dynasty’s third-generation dictator, is regarded as demigod so advising him against or for anything is known to be a live-or-die taboo.
Although the paper did not mention it, it is possible that Chung, 71, was caught in the heat of the moment and made the suggestion to the dictator half his age. In Korea, age is still taken much like rank — the older, the more senior.
Chung went to Pyongyang with National Intelligence Service (NIS) director Suh Hoon to reciprocate the visit by Kim Yo-jong, younger sister of the North Korean leader, to the South during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Chung and Suh received Kim’s proposal for the inter-Korean summit, whose date was later fixed to be held April 27, and relayed his proposal for the first-ever North-U.S. summit in late May to President Donald Trump, who accepted it less than an hour after it was delivered.
Meanwhile, Kim is a confirmed heavy smoker, being seen with lit cigarettes during his visits to hospitals, schools and kindergartens. Official photos and footage show an ashtray wherever he sits.
His father, Kim Jong-il, was a heavy smoker as well, but was rarely seen smoking in official photos.