North America

Why did Donald Trump salute this North Korean general?


US President Donald Trump sparked a debate over military and diplomatic protocol after footage surfaced of him saluting a North Korean general.

Footage of President Trump saluting a top North Korean general during this week’s summit meeting with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, set off debate on Thursday over military and diplomatic protocol.

The scene was part of a 42-minute documentary that aired on state television two days after the two leaders met in Singapore, offering another window into the historic encounter.

North Korea President Kim Jong-un introduces US President Donald Trump to uniformed North Korean official No Kwang Chol
North Korea President Kim Jong-un introduces US President Donald Trump to uniformed North Korean official No Kwang Chol

While greeting North Korean dignitaries after his initial handshake with Mr Kim, Mr Trump proceeded down the line shaking hands, the video shows. When Mr Trump offered his hand to Gen. No Kwang-chol, who was recently promoted to defense chief, the general saluted instead.

Mr Trump quickly raised his own hand and saluted back.

Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, a retired United States Army general, criticised the gesture in a statement.

“It is wholly inappropriate for the commander in chief of our armed forces to salute the military of our adversary, especially one which is responsible for a regime of terror, murder and unspeakable horror against its own people,” General Eaton said.

Others pointed out that with North and South Korea still technically at war (a formal peace treaty was never signed), it was inappropriate for Mr Trump to salute the general of an adversary.

But some defended the salute, pointing out that General No had initiated it and saying that Mr Trump was being polite in return.

The documentary, which included scenes not previously broadcast, appeared on the state-run KCTV and was enthusiastically presented by the North Korean television mainstay Ri Chun-hee. Much of the program, which followed Mr Kim throughout his trip, was overlaid with soaring patriotic music and breathless narration.

The video was bookended by two scenes from Pyongyang: Mr Kim’s departure on an Air China flight amid enthusiastic waves from military officers; and his return home to another waving crowd of officers.

The footage also showed a smiling Mr Kim strolling through the streets of Singapore with Vivian Balakrishnan, the country’s minister for foreign affairs, as cameras flashed and dozens of people raised their smartphones to take photos.

In the United States, the handshake caused some Americans to examine history and search for precedents.

As commander in chief, presidents have long been saluted by members of the United States military, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that President Ronald Reagan began returning the gesture. Since then, presidents often salute members of the American military.

But the protocol for when it is appropriate for a president to salute those outside the American military has remained murky, and former presidents have drawn criticism for their saluting etiquette.

President Barack Obama was criticised in 2014 for saluting a military officer while holding a cup of coffee.

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