North Korea’s charm offensive is not enough to forgive them of their numerous aggressions and indiscretions against their own people and other nations.
Much of this year’s Winter Olympics media coverage is focused on one topic. North Korea’s participation and all the negotiations, political implications and awkward moments that comes with it have been in the limelight of about every major news channel in the United States at some point in the past month. At a moment when tensions seem as high as ever between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, and much of the international community, many applaud the idea of turning over a new leaf with the isolationist regime.
All this coverage has given the DPRK a new opportunity for a charm offensive. Some news reporters, but mostly social mediaites, have affectionately called Kim Yo Jong the “Ivanka Trump of North Korea.” In an article by the “Washington Post,” multiple people were quoted telling reporters just how much nicer Kim Yo Jong was than they’d imagined North Koreans. The “Post” said she had a “Mona Lisa face” and a sphinxlike smile. Keep in mind, this is not only Kim Jong Un’s sister but also the deputy director of the party’s Propaganda and Agitation Department.
Other positive perceptions of the regime have come from the Olympic Games as well. NBC’s Lester Holt praised “a new image” for the regime as he stood in a bustling ski resort that was almost certainly a staged environment. North Korean skaters have been called the “darlings of social media” by at least one news site. The problem with this charm offensive is that it actually appears to be working on some. Sending beaming cheerleaders and healthy athletes gives the world a poor glimpse of the reality of the average citizen’s life in North Korea.
For those who haven’t fallen for the charm offensive, there’s another trap: the assumption that the DPRK’s presence in the games means something. There’s the small chance that North Korea might be more open to negotiations during and after this year’s games, but keep in mind that North and South Korea have marched under a unified flag in nine different international athletic competitions since the 2000 Olympics in Australia. Those games involved their own controversies, including pressure from the DPRK for South Korea to pay for their team’s uniforms and the fact that South Korea had, on top of more open trade, paid at least 100 million dollars’ worth in government money to the Kim regime to attend a major summit.
Under alleged direct orders from Kim Jong Il, North Korean spies attempted to ruin the 1988 Seoul Olympic games by detonating a bomb on Korean Air Lines Flight 858. The Boeing 707 exploded and killed all 115 passengers on November 29, 1987. However, the games went on. Now Kim Hyon Hui, a North Korean defector who aided in the bombing, warns the world that the DPRK hasn’t changed and that their leaders still haven’t apologized for the bombing. “They are using South Korea to overcome their difficulties … to achieve their goal they execute their own people, siblings, families … do not be fooled, North Korea has not changed at all,” she told reporters.
We can’t allow ourselves to be fooled by North Korea’s participation this year. North and South Korea marched together in Italy in 2006 before North Korea tested its first nuclear weapon eight months later. They stood unified at the Asian Games in 2014 before exchanging fire over the border once the games ended. Whatever benefits the international community reaps from Pyongyang’s peaceful participation will likely be short lived, according to Dartmouth College’s Andrew Bertoli. “We shouldn’t fall for the temptation to see this short-term warming effect as an indication that these sporting events are actually leading to any type of long-term improvements in the behavior of these countries.”
Pyongyang has spent recent months testing ballistic missiles, threatening to “reduce the United States to ashes,” “sink Japan” and are likely responsible for the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother. The regime also tested a nuclear weapon 17 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, broke numerous sanctions in trade and continues to starve most of its citizens. While a few North Koreans get to sit in on the Olympic games, one defector recently alleged that she and 10,000 of her peers were forced to watch as 11 musicians, accused of making a pornographic video, were gruesomely executed in a stadium. “They were lashed to the end of anti-aircraft guns. Their bodies were blown to bits, totally destroyed, blood and bits flying everywhere … and then after that military tanks moved in and they ran over the bits on the ground where the remains lay.”
Let’s welcome the DPRK to the 2018 Winter Olympics. It might alleviate international tension, even if just for a moment. However, let’s not forget just what nation it is we’re talking about here and how routine these unification marches are becoming. Mike Pence, love him or hate him, seems to have the right idea. North Korea recently contested Mike Pence’s invitation to Fred Warmbier to the Olympics, but perhaps they shouldn’t have sent Warmbier’s son home in a coma from which he would never wake up. If you have to sit next to one of the most insulting dictatorships in today’s history, at least remind them you know what they are.