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Moon and Kim use honorific titles to address each other

Posted April. 28, 2018 07:43,   

Updated April. 28, 2018 07:43


“Chairman (Kim Jong Un) nim” and “President (Moon Jae-in) nim” were how South and North Korean leaders addressed each other at a historic summit Friday, with an honorific title “nim” attached to their official titles, implying the unprecedented level of communication between the two Koreas.

“I wish to express my respect to Chairman Kim Jong Un nim’s decision that made today’s discussion possible,” President Moon said at their bilateral meeting in the Joint Security Area of Panmunjom, after they met for the first time at the Military Demarcation Line. Moon used a title of respect “nim” in addressing Kim, who is known to be over 30 years younger than him, while Kim also referred to Moon by “President nim” in saying that he will “have a good discussion today with President Moon.” During the summit, the North Korean leader constantly spoke in honorific forms, saying “I will visit Cheong Wa Dae whenever you (President Moon) invite me.”

This was the first time that a North Korean leader called the South’s leader “President nim,” with an honorific title “nim.” Back in 2000 and 2007, Kim Jong Il, former general secretary of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, addressed former South Korean Presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun just as “President” during bilateral summits. Meanwhile, ahead of the Moon-Kim meeting, the South Korean government had announced that it decided to address Kim Jong Un's wife, Ri Sol Ju, as “Madame.”

The use of honorifics by both leaders seems to demonstrate the level of mutual trust between the two Koreas. Some say that Moon and Kim were able to proactively express the sense of intimacy because the agendas for the meeting had been already fine-tuned in advance. “Overall, it felt that Kim Jong Un treated President Moon with more courtesy,” said a government source. “It seems to be Kim Jong Un’s strategy to deliberately depict himself as a flexible national leader, but it may simply reflect the physical ages of the two leaders.”

Jin-Woo Shin niceshin@donga.com