Rodman worms his way into North Korea

By Cheng Weidan in Pyongyang and Yang Jingjie in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2013-2-28 0:48:01

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is trying to exert "flexible diplomacy" to ease the hostility between Pyongyang and Washington through a US basketball delegation's visit, two weeks after the country's third nuclear test drew international condemnation, observers said.

Former NBA star Dennis Rodman, nicknamed "The Worm" during his playing days, arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday to film a television documentary with representatives of the Harlem Globetrotters celebrity team, the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

The week-long trip to Pyongyang was organized by a television production company, VICE, and includes a basketball camp for North Korean children and engaging in community-based games.

The company hinted that Kim may attend one of its events. But that could not be independently verified, Reuters reported.

Kim, who is in his late 20s or early 30s, is reported to be an avid NBA fan.

Some analysts have regarded the visit as "basketball diplomacy," comparing it to the US' "ping-pong diplomacy" with China during the early 1970s.

However, US State Department's deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell on Tuesday dismissed such a comparison, saying "we just don't take a position on this private travel."

Yang Mian, a professor of international relations at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times that the goodwill visit could defuse tensions that have been higher than normal since North Korea's February 12 nuclear test.

"After feeling the pressure for its latest nuclear test, Pyongyang is using the visit to ease hostility with the US and exhibit flexibility through [Kim's] penchant for basketball," Yang said. "However, it is still unlikely the North will engage with the US directly without China's presence, which would only make it more isolated."

Liu Ming, a researcher with the Institute of International Relations at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that in line with past activities, the Rodman-led visit is more of a propaganda campaign to improve the rigid image of the North.

Compared to the era of late leader Kim Jong-il, the North is gradually marching toward opening-up as part of an irresistible trend that could ease social tensions among the country's young people, noted Yang.

"However, the change is quantitative instead of qualitative, and the prerequisite for the change is the regime's strict grip on power," he said.

While receiving the US delegation, Pyongyang didn't scale down its rhetoric against the US. The KCNA recently has reported increased visits to military units by Kim, who called for the country's armed forces to be ready for all forms of outside aggression.

South Korea's chief envoy to the Six-Party Talks reportedly arrived in Beijing on Wednesday for a two-day visit, and held talks with his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei Wednesday afternoon about UN measures against North Korea.

The Yonhap News Agency reported that Seoul and Washington are seeking to convince the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution against Pyongyang that would include articles 41 and 42 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows all UN members to enforce sanctions by military means.

Japanese media reported Wednesday that the US and China last week tentatively agreed on new UN sanctions, but without a clause for military enforcement of sanctions. The news was later denied by the South's foreign ministry.

Both the US State Department and China's foreign ministry said that US Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi Tuesday held a phone conversation about North Korea, without elaborating on the talks.

"The bottom line for China is no terms on military enforcement should be attached, and sanctions shouldn't lead to the fall of the regime and the starvation of the country," said Yang Mian.

Liu said China now has limited sway over Pyongyang because it is unwilling to play all its cards, namely its food and energy aid to the North.

"Beijing will likely continue piling its pressure over the North in an incremental and restrained manner. It may not succeed, but it at least could avoid the worst scenario, namely armed conflicts in the peninsula," noted Liu.

Reuters contributed to this story

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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