They say a handshake has power, but what about a salute? North Korean state TV has aired video of President Trump saluting a North Korean general while meeting members of Kim Jong Un's delegation in Singapore earlier this week. Although the interaction was but a short clip in North Korean news broadcaster KCTV's nearly hour-long coverage of the Trump and Kim's historic summit, some experts say it's likely to be used as propaganda for the hermit kingdom well into the future.
"When it comes to messaging, North Korea never does anything by accident," North Korea expert and Korea Economic Institute Communications Director Jenna Gibson tells Bustle. "Every clip in the KCTV coverage was chosen with a purpose, and the footage of President Trump saluting North Korean General No Kwang Chol is no exception."
In the video, Trump can be seen shaking the hand of another man in Kim's delegation before turning with his hand outstretched toward a North Korean general, who CNN has identified as Gen. No Kwang Chol. Upon meeting Trump, No lowers his head slightly and salutes the U.S. president. Trump then salutes No in return before shaking his hand and moving on to meet another member of the delegation.
According to Gibson, there had been considerable concern ahead of Trump and Kim's summit that some aspects of the meeting — the side-by-side placement of American and North Korean flags, for example — would serve to elevate the North Korean dictator and make it appear as if he and Trump were "meeting on equal footing." But Gibson says the symbolism of the American and North Korean flags flown together "pales in comparison with an American President giving a salute — a sign of great respect — to a North Korean general."
"In North Korea, the military is extremely important, and military officials are important figures in North Korean state messaging," Gibson tells Bustle. "So while saluting a military officer in any country is a sign of respect, in North Korea it will be taken even more seriously, and will be seen as a major sign that Kim Jong Un and his regime are negotiating on equal footing with the United States."
Gibson says the video of Trump saluting No "will be major highlights of North Korean propaganda for years to come."
CNN has called the salute "an extraordinary display of respect from a U.S. president to a top officer of a hostile regime." While North Korea expert and Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Korea Center Jean H. Lee told the Washington Post the brief interaction will likely be framed as a significant win by North Korea.
"This is a moment that will be used over and over in North Korea's propaganda as 'proof' that the American president defers to the North Korean military," Lee said. "It will be treated as a military victory by the North Koreans."
According to The Hill, U.S. presidents often return the customary salute of U.S. service members, "but do not salute members of other nation's militaries." That being said, there don't appear to be any hard and fast rules for who a U.S. president can — or cannot — salute, according to CNN. In general, however, returning a salute is generally seen as a sign of mutual respect, the cable news outlet reported.
But it seems Trump didn't just salute a high-ranking member of North Korea's military; he also saluted members of Singapore's military while in the country for his summit with Kim. CNN has reported that Trump was given a protocol briefing that included a recommendation to not salute members of a foreign military.
Bustle has reached out to the White House for comment.
Despite Kim and Trump's summit, North Korea is still not considered to be an ally of the United States but rather is known to be a hostile and oppressive regime.