Published : 2013-03-04 19:40
Updated : 2013-03-04 19:40
Former NBA star Dennis Rodman lauded North Korea’s young ruler Kim Jong-un as an “awesome guy” and his father and grandfather as “great leaders” at the end of his four-day visit to Pyongyang last week. It would be nonsense to give meaning to the remarks of the flamboyant American athlete, who revealed his ignorance in a Twitter post expressing his hopes of meeting South Korean pop sensation Psy in the North Korean capital.
Kim, who sat knee to knee with Rodman to watch a basketball game joined by members of the Harlem Globetrotters, expressed his expectation that such sports exchanges would help promote mutual understanding between the peoples of the two nations. But his behavior drew no attention from the global community, which saw its earlier hopes for the Swiss-educated leader to take the path of reform and openness dashed by his decision to carry out a long-range rocket launch and a nuclear test. Inviting the ex-NBA star was, at best, a useless attempt to deflect mounting international pressure in the wake of last month’s atomic detonation, or an event designed to achieve the adolescent dream of the North Korean ruler known as an ardent fan of basketball.
In what was described by a U.S. attendant as an “epic feast,” Kim was said to have been eager to treat his American guests with food and drinks, with round after round of toasts being made. A spokesman at the U.S. State Department was right to criticize the North Korean regime for “spending money to wine and dine foreign visitors when they should be feeding their own people.”
Neither the nuclear test nor the show-off basketball match will have helped ease the hardship that North Koreans have gone through in the past decades. Growing public discontent, coupled with and amplified by their increasing exposure to the outside world, including South Korean TV dramas and movies, would eventually pose the gravest threat to the totalitarian regime Kim took over following the death of his father in December 2011.
He may be facing a crucial choice soon when the U.N. Security Council announces strengthened sanctions in response to its latest and third nuclear explosion.
South Korean President Park Geun-hye said in a speech last week that she was ready to take a more flexible approach to Pyongyang if it was willing to “make the right choice and walk the path of change.” Her aides have suggested the new government in Seoul would consider resuming humanitarian aid to the North in a track separate from complying with the U.N. punitive measures. Park’s conciliatory overture may provide the best opportunity for the North Korean ruler to enable himself to feed his own people.