N. Korea appears to struggle to shed negative image
Published : 2013-01-15 10:00
Updated : 2013-01-15 14:43
North Korea actively received foreign guests and increased exchanges with the outside world this year, Pyongyang watchers said Tuesday, raising speculation that the North is trying to shed its negative image triggered by last month's rocket launch.
The watchers said there have been an unusually large number of foreigners visiting Pyongyang, beginning on Jan. 7 with the arrivals of an economic trade-promotion delegation from China, and the four-day tour by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
This was followed on Monday by the arrival of an Associated Press delegation, led by Vice President John Daniszewski, who is expected to stay in the country until Thursday.
The Chinese team came to stimulate economic ties between the neighboring countries, while Schmidt came to see firsthand the overall Internet and information technology environment in the isolationist country. Richardson made the visit on a "private humanitarian" mission to discuss the treatment of a Korean-American detained in the North for unspecified crimes.
Details on Daniszewski's visit are not known, but he may be in the capital city to mark the first anniversary of the opening of the U.S. news agency's bureau in Pyongyang.
The watchers said that the three relatively high-profile visits are unusual since Pyongyang generally has very few visitors in January.
"With the exception of an entertainment troupe from Korean residents living in Japan, and a handful of isolated cases, there have generally been no foreign visitors in the first month of the year," an observer said.
In addition to the visits, North Korea's traditional performance troupe toured several cities in China, which is a break from the past.
Some speculated that Pyongyang may be trying to send a message of reconciliation as the United Nations contemplates imposing tougher sanctions for the launching of a three-stage rocket on Dec. 12. North Korea said the launch was aimed at allowing the country to use space in a peaceful manner, but the U.S. and its allies have criticized it as a feigned attempt to test ballistic missile technology.
Experts, moreover, said the visit by the Google chairman generated considerable international interest as North Korea is entering its second year of rule under Kim Jong-un. Kim took power in late 2011 after the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il.
"There seems to be a move to use the visits and foreign exchanges to bolster the country's image," said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University.
Besides the increase in guests, the "usual fervor" of people studying the New Year's joint editorials that outline the country's policy directions in the coming months has diminished. During the Kim Jong-il reign, people were called up to study and memorize the editorial in detail by forming groups and organizing rallies.
Such gatherings played a role in less international exchanges taking place in January in the past.
North Korean observers, meanwhile, said that in this regard, the new leader seems to be adopting a more pragmatic approach to ruling the country, although it is too early to tell if this will continue in the coming years. (Yonhap News)