As the Worm and his motley crew of former NBA players turn in North Korea, Andrei Lankov writes in NK News that Rodman’s trip should be welcomed:
It is difficult to agree with optimists who sincerely claim that a less hostile and more forgiving international environment will make North Korean decision-makers reconsider their old and brutal ways. Less stick and more carrot is unlikely to make North Korea’s top leadership transform its country into a more benevolent dictatorship or liberal democracy. Pyongyang is well-aware of how risky reforms can be, and the leadership does not trust the outside world (regardless of how the outside world behaves).
Nonetheless, cultural exchanges with North Korea are very important. This is because exchanges influence the proverbial hearts and minds of North Koreans. For decades, North Koreans have been told that the outside world is destitute hell, characterized by extreme poverty and suffering. People inside the North are beginning to understand that they have been deceived, but it will do no harm if their suspicions are confirmed. The best way to do this is by exposing North Koreans to the outside world.
In this regard, Rodman’s presence in and of itself is important, as is his (and his entourage’s) contacts with North Korean officials and sportsmen. As my student Peter Ward has noted in soon-to-be-published research, for decades the oppression of black people within American society was a ubiquitous element in North Korean official narratives of America. Such ideas are difficult to sustain when the U.S. is headed by a black president, but Rodman’s visit is likely to make many North Koreans even more skeptical of official claims – and this is a good thing.
It might be a good thing. Who knows. I have my doubts about the effectiveness of people-to-people diplomacy as far as North Korea is concerned, but I understand the arguments for it. The problem is, the Worm might not necessarily be the best private diplomat:
– Rodman apparently doesn’t want any “negativity” about the visit. I think that’s going to be tough when he’s seemingly blaming Kenneth Bae for his captivity (see above) and likening North Korea’s gulag system to the American prison system and/or Gitmo (granted, he’s not the only former NBAer to do so). I will say in Rodman’s defense, though, that reporters keep on asking the guy questions they know he can’t answer, and Rodman keeps answering because he’s not the brightest light on the 15-man roster. I don’t recall reporters giving New York Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel this much shit when his orchestra visited North Korea in 2008, and he said stuff that was just as outrageous. UPDATE: Not to mention the New York Philharmonic’s performance probably lent the North Korean regime a lot more legitimacy than Rodman’s trip. Rodman’s essentially a walking reality show, and I think most people view his trip to North Korea as an extension of Rodman’s personal nuttiness. The New York Philharmonic, on the other hand, is one of the world’s most prestigious orchestras.
– At the CSM, Steven Borowiec has written a Q&A about Rodman’s trip.
– A diplomatic source is telling Dennis Halpern that the Worm has brought luxury goods with him to North Korea, a violation of UN sanctions and punishable by a 20-season suspension from the public at large. For what it’s worth, though, I do believe that anyone who enjoys Jameson can’t be entirely bad. Smuggling Bushmills, however, should get you waterboarded in Gitmo.
– Three Korean golf courses were named to Golf Digest’s top 100 courses in the world. Anyang Benest (now Anyang CC) was the best Korean course at 40th place. A round there will set non-club members back KRW 257,000 on a weekend, not including the caddy.
– A long-time expat in Korea has reportedly been busted in Cambodia on charges of having sex with a 14-year-old boy.
– You know, Bumfromkorea, if Steven Seagal ever did become your governor, I believe that would make his wife Erdenetuya the first Mongolian first lady of a US state.