North Korea’s Olympic charm offensive

North Korean defectors, who fled their impoverished and repressive homeland, are voicing concern that the North’s Olympic delegation featuring its “army of beauties” will score deceptive propaganda points, but they also hold out hope that inter-Korean cooperation can create an opportunity for peaceful progress.

A 230 member all female cheerleading squad, often called the “army of beauties,” will be among the large North Korean Olympic delegation planning to visit South Korea for the PyeongChang Olympics in February.

“It will garner the spotlight, and as each of its actions can become an opportunity to promote North Korea, I consider this as a political move,” said Kim Chul-woong, who was a pianist with Pyongyang University of Music and Dance, before defecting in 2002.

The cheering squad is made up of attractive and relatively tall women (over 160cm,) who were selected from elite universities and have no relatives living abroad. Perhaps the most famous former cheering squad member is Ri Sol Ju, the wife of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. At the age of 16 she participated in the 2005 Asian Athletic Championships in South Korea.

The women cheerleaders also undergo extensive ideological education to ensure loyalty to the state and to the leadership of the Kim family. “Leaving North Korea and visiting overseas is like going to fight in the heart of the enemy,” said North Korean defector Han Seo-hee. Han can also testify that the state’s ideological training is not always effective, as she was actually a North Korean cheerleader for the 2002 Asian Games held in Busan, South Korea, before she defected.


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