I recently urged readers to approach reports of a purge of North Korean officials associated with the Hanoi Summit with the U.S. that ended abruptly with skepticism.

Now it appears that everyone should take the cautious approach since the media reported Kim Jong-un sent one of the high ranking diplomats involved in the summit to a labor camp, but pictures show him enjoying himself at a North Korean theater….along with the Dear Leader.

High-ranking North Korean diplomat Kim Yong Chol was identified attending an art performance alongside leader Kim Jong Un in the country’s state media on Sunday — two days after one of South Korea’s biggest newspapers said he had been banished and sentenced to hard labor and his deputy executed.

If true, it would have been one of the most stunning stories to come out of North Korea in some time. Kim Yong Chol, in particular, sat in the White House across from US President Donald Trump for talks little more than a year ago.

Analysts have speculated that some of the North Korean diplomats charged with US negotiations were in hot water after the latest round of talks between the two countries ended abruptly in Hanoi without an agreement.

But an invitation to join Kim Jong Un in public would likely not be extended to someone who had fallen out of favor.

Many experts on North Korea suspect the regime pushed Kim Yong Chol to a back seat in negotiations with the United States. They were wary of claims that Kim Jong-un would have blamed him for the negotiation collapse. Furthermore, North Korea would face serious ramifications for future diplomacy if they had him “re-educated.”

Cheong Seong-Chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said Kim Yong Chol, who is also rumored to have health problems, wouldn’t have appeared in public this quickly if he was undergoing political re-education. Chang said it wouldn’t make sense for Kim Jong Un to execute Kim Hyok Chol when Kim Yong Chol, the more senior official, would be seen as more responsible for the failure in Hanoi.

“If Kim Jong Un sentences senior officials to hard labor, executes them, or puts them in political prison camps over the collapse of meetings, then no official would be willing to step up in external negotiations,” Chang said. “It’s unlikely that Kim would issue extreme punishment unless he’s giving up on the talks with the United States.”

The North Korean leader’s famous younger sister has also appeared in public for the first time in nearly two months, also contradicting rumors that the regime disciplined her in the wake of the Hanoi Summit failure.

Kim Yo-jong attended North Korea’s propaganda group gymnastics and artist performance called “The Land of the People” held in Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium on Monday, along with leader Kim, according to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

It marked the first time that Kim Yo-jong has appeared in public since she was last seen in North Korean media during the Supreme People’s Assembly in April. Until then, she played the role of a personal secretary for the leader, and was seen holding an ashtray when he was having a cigarette break at a Chinese train station on his way to Vietnam for the summit with Trump.

[Featured image via YouTube]


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