Approaching the Ri Son Gwon‘s Noodle Controversy from the Perspective of National Reconciliation

North Korea’s Ri Son Gwon’s remarks whether the cold noodles “made their way down their throats” to South Korea’s top business executives has become a major controversy.


There are some who claim that a formal apology should be received as his rude behaviour was not a one-off incident.

While others say that we should look at the background of that remark and that there is no need to overreact to the North Koreans’ culture of direct jokes.


To be honest, when I first heard about the “cold noodle remark”, I was suspicious of that incident and if it were to be true, I thought it wasn’t right to let it slip by.

Regardless of the background of that remark before and after, if Ri Son Gwon had said such a thing in front of the South Korean conglomerates it is still regarded, nonetheless, as a great insult.


In North Korea, however, the statement like “is the food going down your throat?” is often said by parents to their children as well as those superiors to inferiors.

Usually North Korean people do not feel to be insulted or uncomfortable from hearing these words.

Furthermore, considering the fact that Ri Son Gwon had come to eat noodles with South Korean conglomerates, I don’t think he had said it with an intention to provoke anybody.


Even until the early 2000’s, when I worked at the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Americans were written as “yankees/American bastards” while we used ‘those Chinks and those Ruskis” when referring to China and Russia in all documents given to Kim Jong Il.

This was the normal way to show loyalty to the party as well as independence in politics.

But one day Kim Jong Il warned then First Deputy Foreign Minister, Kang Sok Ju that while these words were popular in the public, if diplomats were to also use such vulgar expressions then they would easily make unnecessary mistakes while conducting diplomatic activities.

As a result, expressions such as “those yankees, Chinks and those Ruskis” were banned in all documents in the Foreign Ministry.

As North Korean party and state officials are often told by the Party to be careful with their language in front of the public, it is possible that Ri Son Gwon had said the noodle remark to lighten the mood.

In this way, I think it would be too extreme to demand a formal apology from North Korea and or even demand Ri’s dismiss from his current position.


If we are to demand formal apologies from North Korea we should start with the issues such as only flying the North Korean flag at the welcome ceremony at the airport when President Moon Jae In arrived in Pyongyang or the fact that the symbol of North Korean Workers’ Party was placed on top of the Korean Peninsula at the backdrop of the photograph commemorating the Pyongyang Inter-Korean Summit.


Only flying the North Korean flag at the reception ceremony for President Moon and choosing a political venue that signifies the North Korean Workers’ Party unifying Korea under the banner of the Juche ideology by force as a place for a commemoration photograph is a major violation of the basic agreements reached in 1991 that the relationship between North and South Korea is a special one leading towards unification.


Demanding an official apology or personnel dismiss for every contingent issue that was carried out with no intention to provoke is very Red Guard-like.


Reunification of the Korean Peninsula begins with the change of the North Koreans’ perceptions, and in order to that we must begin with enlightening them of their mistakes.


By all means Kim Jong Un is aware of the controversy surrounding Ri Son Gwon’s noodle remark.

It was probably also a shock for Ri Son Gwon himself, and I am sure he will be careful at any future inter-Korean events.

I believe that it is reasonable from the perspective of rapprochement between North and South Korea that Ri Son Gwon’s noodle controversy end here and we should take one step further towards denuclearization and a peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.

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