North Korea has shown a humble streak of late—just not about its weapons

Diplomatic note.
Diplomatic note.
Image: Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
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Last year, North Korea routinely bragged about its weapons. This year, it has surprised many with how humble it can be—not about its missiles and nuclear weapons, but about much else.

At the Korea summit today, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed some embarrassment over his country’s transportation infrastructure. Speaking to his counterpart Moon Jae-in, he noted North Korea has bad roads, adding that the delegation he sent to the Winter Olympics in February, by contrast, had been impressed by South Korea’s advanced high-speed trains.

Also at the summit, many were surprised when high-ranking North Korean military officials saluted Moon, despite the two countries remaining technically at war. Jeong Kyeong-doo, South Korea’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, only shook hands with Kim.

Kim Jong-un began the year on a diplomatic note, saying in a new year’s speech the leaders from the two sides should meet, and that he’d send a delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea. He’s largely stuck with that tone. Cultural exchanges have taken place, including a K-pop concert in Pyongyang earlier this month that Kim attended.

After Kim’s bodyguards blocked South Korean reporters from entering the theater showing that concert, a high-ranking official personally apologized to them at their hotel in Pyongyang. The official said the blocked entry had not been intentional, blaming insufficient communication between the event organizers and the security team. North Korea through the years hasn’t exactly been known for admitting fault or apologizing.

Kim also deeply apologized to the Chinese government this week after a tour bus crashed in North Korea, killing over 30 Chinese tourists. Last month he traveled to Beijing on his first official trip outside North Korea, paying his respects to  Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He even took notes while Xi spoke.

At the summit today Kim also told Moon he heard he was “always waking up early” due to North Korea’s missile tests. He promised not to interrupt his sleep anymore, which followed an announcement last weekend that his country would ”discontinue” testing nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

That, somehow, sounded not entirely friendly. North Korea has said little about its vast array of other weapons, and many doubt it will ever give up its existing nukes.

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Read more of Quartz’s coverage of the Korea summit