Will Rodman’s Pyongyang trip make an impact this time?

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/13 23:43:39

Ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman left Beijing for North Korea Tuesday. On the same day, North Korea released a US college student imprisoned there, which boosted Rodman's prestige. Having visited Pyongyang at least five times, Rodman has described his series of trips as "basketball diplomacy."

The US table tennis team visited China in 1971, and its effects on reviving Sino-US relations are historically recognized, with the achievements of the trip being dubbed "Ping-Pong diplomacy." One year later, then US president Richard Nixon came to China. His historic trip fundamentally changed the global geopolitical pattern and initiated China-US-USSR triangle. Ping-Pong diplomacy was regarded as a classic case of cultural diplomacy.

Rodman seems highly expectant that his "basketball diplomacy" could exert groundbreaking effects on North Korea's current deadlock. Regrettably, although his four Pyongyang trips from 2013 to 2014 may have helped him forge personal friendly ties with Kim Jong-un and helped secure Kenneth Bae's release from North Korea, there have been no apparent positive effects on the Washington-Pyongyang relationship.

Rodman's Pyongyang trips have sparked a public uproar. The sports star stressed that he is only attempting to bridge the US-North Korean divide, however, Washington seems nonplussed by Rodman's efforts. Within the US, his "basketball diplomacy" has been received more with criticism and jeers than plaudits. 

Perhaps Washington was not prepared to utilize "basketball diplomacy" as a tool to alleviate its current tensions with Pyongyang. Washington's North Korea policy was rigid under former president Barack Obama - demanding Pyongyang to abandon nuclear attempts, but refusing to address the latter's security concerns. It is unrealistic to count on a basketball game to denuclearize North Korea.

Now President Donald Trump has assumed office, there may be some changes in the Pyongyang issue. Trump and Rodman frequently interact on social media platforms. Meanwhile, Trump is widely believed to be more politically resilient than his predecessors, and Pyongyang's nuclear issue seems to be at a new crossroads at present.

Pyongyang has announced it has made breakthroughs in its intercontinental ballistic missile program. If North Korea is capable of attacking the US mainland, Trump would have to make a difficult choice. As a showdown appears to be looming, both Washington and Pyongyang will be more cautious in exploring signals from the other side and the consequences of crossing the bottom line.

The US and North Korea will see closer ties if Washington wants peace, not just denuclearization, and Pyongyang wants security, instead of nuclear weapons. After all, nuclear weapons are tools for security. If the two countries can communicate seriously on the purpose of the nuclear activities, breakthroughs may be achieved.

Whether Rodman's "basketball diplomacy" can leave a mark in history will probably depends on his luck. We wish him good luck.

Posted in: OBSERVER

blog comments powered by Disqus