CNN today President Donald Trump had already flown to China by the time ordinary North Koreans heard he’d addressed South Korea’s National Assembly.
In a damning speech on Wednesday, Trump called the isolated communist country “a hell that no person deserves.”
The rebuttal from North Koreans was equally harsh.
One woman CNN spoke to on the streets of Pyongyang called Trump’s assertion “foolish,” “absurd” and another word CNN cannot print.
“The reality here is very different. We’re leading a happy life,” Ri Yong Hui, a housewife in Pyongyang, told CNN.
North Korean state media reported that Trump had spoken on Thursday, but did not include concrete details of his speech, in which the president slammed Pyongyang’s human rights abuses.
The North Korean state newspaper Rodong Sinmun characterized Trump’s words as “garbage spewing like gunpowder out of Trump’s snout like garbage that reeks of gun powder to ignite war.”
CNN’s government minders allowed us to reveal the actual contents of what Trump said to citizens on the streets of Pyongyang, agreeing to take us down to a busy street corner and interview citizens.
We approached several people.
“Trump has no right to talk about human rights,” Ri said, as the government minders translated for her. “He’s a simple war maniac.”
The phrase “maniac” is one that North Korean state media often uses to describe Trump, and that’s no coincidence.
Most people in Pyongyang are effectively sealed off from the outside world. They’re only able to access government-approved propaganda, as the North Korean leadership blocks foreign media and levies harsh punishments to those who smuggle or view content they deem inappropriate.
Ri Won Gil, an editor at a publishing company (unrelated and unacquainted to Ri Yong Hui), also called Trump a maniac.
Ri told CNN that Trump was “a fool, a maniac and the only response to what he is saying is to give him a good beating with a stick.”
“(Trump) knows nothing at all about North Korea and in general about the Korean nation,” Ri said. “He has no common sense or knowledge about what we are. He may have said some things, but we don’t really care. We have our own national economy which was carved out and developed by the previous leaders and is being continuously built by the current leader.”
It’s impossible to know if those opinions are legitimately held or if both Ris are touting the party line because it is expected of them.
CNN’s government minders, who travel with and watch foreign journalists on all trips to the hermit nation, let us talk to whomever we wanted to on the street, but that doesn’t mean they were free to speak their minds.
The presence of our official escorts meant that even if anyone we spoke to held differing views, they would likely only reiterate the same talking points as North Korea’s leaders out of fear of punishment.