Excerpts of a CNN piece by Sung-Yoon Lee, an assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and a Kim Koo-Korea Foundation professor in Korean Studies:
Dennis Rodman, the former NBA star and the first American known to have met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was in the secretive country again this past week, purportedly to meet his “friend Kim, the Marshal” and perhaps also, to negotiate for the release of Kenneth Bae, a U.S. citizen detained since November.
Kim’s unconventional courting of Rodman is about equivalent to his enjoyment of Disney characters and scantily clad women on stage. It’s all jolly and trite pleasure.
Kim’s attraction to American icons such as the NBA or Hollywood does not signal a genuine overture to Washington. It does not indicate intentions of reform or opening up of the isolated totalitarian state that imprisons some 1% of its population in political concentration camps.
We should never forget that amidst the levity and bonhomie that will emanate from Pyongyang in the coming days, North Korea, throughout more than 60 years of its existence, has committed systematic and widespread attacks on its civilian population, including murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, enforced sexual slavery and disappearance of people. In short, these are crimes against humanity.
If anything, the young North Korean leader’s occasional displays of affinity for American pop culture will only irk the country’s revolutionary old guards. Kim clearly lacks the gravitas of his late father. He may believe that he is exuding an affable image by being seen with an American star. But by traditional Korean standards on how a national leader should carry himself, Kim comes across as less charismatic than — dare I say — a lightweight.
There is no reason to believe that the North Korean military would challenge anytime soon. Kim’s hold on power over the party and the military seems, for now, firm. But the prospects for a long, happy reign for whom propagandists tout as a demigod are dim.