Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

DPRK fun: Guess how many members of the women’s team are civilians

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

DPRK-national-team-2014

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May Day Stadium Under Renovation

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Here is a December 2013 satellite image of the renovation (currently under way):

May-day-2013-12-1

 

My comments are in this NK News article

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Dennis Rodman’s third trip to DPRK

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

UPDATE 2 (2013-12-26): A couple of the individuals involved in getting Rodman into the DPRK for his second trip (post-Vice) have written an op-ed explaining their motivation. According to the article:

Sometimes private citizens can ease tensions between governments when public officials cannot.

Since we met NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman in May, we have been helping to coordinate his visits to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and organize an international basketball tournament sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power. Seeing as our government has branded the DPRK a “critical” national security threat, we find it reflects badly on Foggy Bottom that the three Americans best acquainted with its supreme leader are a retired NBA star, a mixed martial arts fighter and a tuba-playing human geneticist.

Mr. Rodman constantly reminds those around him to “just do one thing: Do your job.” Now it seems he is picking up some of the slack for the U.S. State Department.

Despite decades-old antagonisms, it was ultimately not confrontation but détente between the capitalist and communist blocs that brought the threat of global nuclear war to an end. Perhaps the most memorable episode of this process was President Richard M. Nixon’s visit to the People’s Republic of China and the period of Ping-Pong Diplomacy that laid the groundwork for it; USA/PRC relations were theretofore nonexistent. As Klaus Mehnert put it, the country “had been closed off so completely that there seemed to be about as many astronauts going to the moon as there were foreign observers getting into China.”

In 1967, presidential candidate Richard Nixon expressed his hope for détente with Peking, writing, “There is no place on this small planet for a billion of its potentially most able people to live in angry isolation.” On Christmas 1970, People’s Daily ran a front-page story with a photograph of Chairman Mao Tsetung and American journalist Edgar Snow standing side by side atop the Tien An Men rostrum; at the top of the page, the day’s Mao quote: “All the peoples of the world, including the American people, are our friends.” While Washington dismissed this gesture given Snow’s sympathy for Mao, in retrospect it seems it was intended as a subtle olive branch.

With spring came a chance meeting between American and Chinese ping-pong players concluding with an exchange of gifts. This simple act of humanity touched off a string of cultural and, later, diplomatic interactions.

Days later, the American team was invited to Peking. President Nixon took the opportunity to announce an easing of sanctions and his hope for normalized bilateral relations and “the ending of the isolation of Mainland China from the world community.”

Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to Peking that summer paved the way for “the Week that Changed the World.” Although Nixon and Mao certainly did not see eye to eye, their shared view that diplomacy is preferable to both isolation and war made normal relations between Washington and Peking possible.

The value of cultural exchanges consists in their power to erode misconceptions. For instance, Dr. Terwilliger spent a month this summer in Pyongyang teaching human evolutionary genetics to a class of very talented Korean undergraduates.

Aside from teaching scientific critical thinking, he took care to present his students with the best side of the American people, to demonstrate that we are a generous and friendly people rather than the “brigandish aggressors” of the familiar caricature. He was both surprised and encouraged by their interest in Mr. Rodman’s February visit.

They noted that hearing Mr. Rodman say nice things about their country made them rethink their stereotypes about Americans, for they had now seen one embracing their leader. Many had even read Mr. Rodman’s autobiography and remarked that they admired his frankness in describing the difficulties he faced in his early life.

Such reactions can only bode well. Hostility is inevitable when the common man on each side sees highlighted only the worst aspects of the other. Mutual understanding is where rapprochement starts.

While the first few timid steps may proceed slowly as trust is built, the example of Ping-Pong Diplomacy demonstrates that if the momentum is sustained it can offer governments new options with which to pursue peace and may even be developed into a full gallop (what the Koreans call “Chollima speed”) toward rapprochement. At the very least, track-two diplomacy can present unique opportunities for engagement between private citizens whose governments remain at odds.

Mr. Rodman would be the first to recognize that he is neither a politician nor a diplomat — and yet, that is precisely what makes him such a promising agent of reconciliation. As a cultural icon, Mr. Rodman has the power to project a relatable human face in a way a government functionary simply cannot: by doing down-to-earth things all people can enjoy.

Our government has repeatedly missed the basket, but at least this time Mr. Rodman is there to pick up the rebound. As he has said, “[Kim Jong Un] loves basketball. … Obama loves basketball. Let’s start there.”

An associate professor at Columbia University in New York City, Joseph D. Terwilliger was a member of Dennis Rodman’s September and December delegations to Pyongyang. John Doldo IV, a Watertown native who has also spent time in North Korea, has been working behind the scenes helping to coordinate many aspects of the project. Both authors worked on a strictly voluntary basis in order to avoid any financial conflict of interest.

UPDATE 1 (2013-12-24): According to NK News, the Irish gambling company Paddy Power has decided to end its sponsorship of Rodman’s trips to the DPRK. According to the article:

Irish betting company Paddy Power has ended its partnership with Dennis Rodman and his “basketball diplomacy” initiative.

“We have been reviewing the partnership on an ongoing basis, and with the benefit of hindsight, we probably got this one wrong,” company spokesman Paddy Power (and son of Paddy Power’s founder, Paddy Power) tells NK News.

“Circumstances have changed quite a lot in North Korea; there has been worldwide scrutiny of the North Korean regime, probably more in the past month than in the past couple of years.

“There has been almost total condemnation of North Korea worldwide, and we’re really responding to that.”

Though they won’t be involved, Rodman’s plan to bring 11 other former NBA players to Pyongyang is still a go, according to Power.

“We have spoken to Rodman’s people,” he says. “The event is apparently still happening, but we just won’t be a part of it.”

“Dennis is very appreciative of Paddy Power’s support up to this point for this historic game of basketball diplomacy taking place on Jan. 8th,” Rodman’s agent Darren Prince told the Associated Press.

Here is an article on the history of Rodman and Paddy Power.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-12-21): Dennis Rodman has made his third trip to the DPRK. Trip one post here. Trip two post here.

The organizer, Michael Spavor, has been tweeting the trip here. Based on his pics, here is the appx itinerary:

1. Arrive at night and drive to hotel (motorcade). 2013-12-19

2. Meeting with sports minister. Poto with sports minister. Meeting room. 2012-12-20

3. Dennis Rodman “leads” training for DPRK team. Game scheduled against an American team in January. Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3, Pic 4, Pic 5. 2012-12-20. Here is AP video of the training. Rodman is smoking a cigar.

4. Travel to Koryo Hotel for lunch. 2012-12-20

5. Travel to Korea Federation for the Protection of the Disabled. Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3. 2012-12-21

6. Travel to the Recuperation Center and pools at the newly renovated Munsu Water Park. Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3, Pic 4, Pic 5, Pic 6, Pic 7, Pic 7, Pic 8, Pic 9. 2012-12-21

7. Travel to Mirim Riding Club. Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3, Pic 4, Pic 5, Pic 6. 2012-12-21

Rodman and the group left the DPRK without meeting Kim Jong-un, however, I suspect that he will get together in the upcoming fourth trip slated to take place in January.

Journalists have asked Rodman about current events (Jang song-thaek, Kenneth Bae and human rights) in the DPRK, and he has responded. According to the Telegraph:

“It has nothing to do with me. I mean, whatever his uncle has done, and whoever’s done anything in North Korea, I have no control over that,” Rodman said in Beijing. “I mean, these things have been going on for years and years and years.

“I’m just going over there to do a basketball game and have some fun,” he said.

Ahead of the trip, Seoul-based North Korean human rights activist Shin Dong-hyuk said in an open letter in the Washington Post that Rodman should talk to Kim about human rights abuses in North Korea.

Rodman said it was not his place to talk about such issues.

“People have been saying these things here and there. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m not a politician. I’m not an ambassador,” he said.

“I’m just going over there to try and do something really cool for a lot of people, play some games and try to get the Korean kids to play,” he said.

“Everything else I have nothing to do with. If it happens that he wants to talk about it then great. If it doesn’t happen I just can’t bring it up because I don’t (want) him to think that I’m over here trying to be an ambassador and trying to use him as being his friend and all of a sudden I’m talking about politics. That’s not going to be that way,” Rodman said.

Rodman is expected to provide North Korea’s national basketball team with four days of training during the trip.

Here is a video interview with Rodman at the Koryo Hotel. Here is much of what he said in the video printed in an article.

He also intends to return to Pyongyang in January with a team of fellow former National Basketball Association stars to hold basketball games on Kim’s birthday.

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FIFA supporting development of sport in the DPRK

Thursday, October 31st, 2013

2013-10-31-international-football-school

Pictured Above (Google Earth): The Pyongyang International Football School and support facilities

According to the Korea Herald (Yonhap):

International soccer’s governing body FIFA has provided funds worth $500,000 to build infrastructure to update a soccer academy in Pyongyang, a media outlet reported Thursday.

The International School of Football opened earlier this year and has been training North Korean youths between the ages of 6 and 13, according to a report by Radio Free Asia.

The Washington-based broadcaster said support was given as part of its “goal project” to help build football-related infrastructure in less affluent countries.

FIFA started providing support to the North from 2001 onwards, with around $2 million having been spent so far on six development projects.

Related to the school, North Korean media said its leader Kim Jong-un in June personally designated a name for the new facility that opened on May 31.

Read the full story here:
FIFA gives funds to improve soccer academy in N.K.
Korea Herald (Yonhap)
2013-10-31

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Agreements on Cooperation between DPRK and Mongolia signed

Monday, October 28th, 2013

According to KCNA (2013-10-28):

Agreements on Cooperation between Governments of DPRK, Mongolia Signed

Pyongyang, October 28 (KCNA) — An agreement on cooperation in the fields of industry and agriculture and an agreement on cooperation in the fields of culture, sports and tourism were signed here on Monday between the governments of the DPRK and Mongolia.

Present there from the DPRK side were Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the DPRK Supreme People’s Assembly, Pak Ui Chun, minister of Foreign Affairs, Ri Ryong Nam, minister of Foreign Trade, Kim Jong Suk, chairwoman of the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, Pak Kil Yon, vice-minister of Foreign Affairs, Kwak Il Ryong, vice-minister of Land and Maritime Transport, Hong Kyu, DPRK ambassador to Mongolia, Jong Song Chan, vice general director of the General Bureau of Software Industry of the DPRK, and officials concerned.

Present from the Mongolian side were Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, Luvsanvandan Bold, minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Manibadrakh Ganbold, Mongolian ambassador to the DPRK, Khaltmaa Battulga, minister of Industry and Agriculture, Tsagaandari Enkhtuvshin, secretary general of the National Security Council, Tserendejid Byambajav, chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces, Khabshai Erjan, vice-minister of Road Transport, Lundeg Purevsuren, national security and foreign policy advisor to the President, Amgalanbaatar Ganbaatar, advisor for mass liaison and mass policy to the President, Pureb Altangerel, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, officials concerned and staff members of the Mongolian embassy here.

The agreement on cooperation in the fields of industry and agriculture was inked by Ri Ryong Nam, minister of Foreign Trade, and Khaltmaa Battulga, minister of Industry and Agriculture, and the agreement on cooperation in the fields of culture, sports and tourism by Kim Jong Suk, chairwoman of the Korean Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, and Luvsanvandan Bold, minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, on behalf of the governments of the DPRK and Mongolia.

Meanwhile, the 2013-2015 plan for exchange in the IT field between the General Bureau of Software Industry of the DPRK and the IT, Post and Telecommunication Bureau of Mongolia was signed.

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Evaluation of Kim Jong Un’s first two years: The rise in construction of sports and entertainment facilities and exports to China

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-10-16

The first chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, took office two years ago. Since then, construction of sports and entertainment facilities are reported to have increased considerably. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s Pyongyang Folk Park (September 2012), Taesongsan General Hospital (March 2013), and Haedanghwa Service Complex (April 2013) were recently completed. Since the launch of the Kim Jong Un regime, the Masik Pass Ski Resort and other similar sports facilities have been undertaken and are nearing completion.

In addition, the People’s Theatre (April 2012), Rungna People’s Pleasure Ground (opened in July 2012), Sunrise Restaurant (September 2012), and Unification Street Center (September 2012) have been recently renovated. In addition, the Mirim Riding Club, Pyongyang Gymnasium, Munsu Wading Pool, Aprok (Yalu) River Amusement park, Karma Hotel, and New Day Hotel and other hotels around Pyongyang are currently under renovation and repair. Entertainment and sports facilities around other major cities are being constructed as well. Furthermore, after the successful launch of Kwangmyongsong 3-2 last December, North Korea has begun to construct major residential complexes for scientists, granting them preferential housing in Unha scientist residence, Kim Il Sung University educator residence, and Pyongsong residence. Other large-scale housing projects are also reported to be under development.

In the wake of major celebrations in North Korea — such as the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung and 60-year anniversary of the “Victory in the Fatherland Liberation War” — a large memorial was erected and existing facilities were repaired. Specifically, the Korean People’s Army Exhibition of Arms and Equipment, Kumsusan Memorial Palace, War Victory Monument, and the Cemetery of the Fallen Fighters of the KPA were refurbished.

Unlike the large-scale construction of sports and entertainment facilities, new constructions of harbors, roads, power plants and other social overhead capital (SOC) is reported to be in decline.

Last August, North Korea’s trade with China has shown an 8 percent increase in exports and 6 percent decrease in imports, following a similar trend from last year. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, North Korea’s current trade volume with China is reported to be 4 billion USD (1.89 billion USD in exports and 2.2 billion USD in imports).

North Korea’s most popular export items are mineral resources such anthracite, coal, and iron ore. In the case of clothing products — which are mostly consigned processing — there has been an increase of 42 percent (200 million USD) against the previous year. Major categories of imports from China are crude oil, food, and fertilizers. Compared to the previous year, food imports have declined 57 percent (17.4 million tons), and fertilizer and crude oil imports are also showing gradual reduction at 27 percent (18.3 million tons) and 6 percent (34.6 million tons), respectively.

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DPRK approves ROK flag and anthem for first time

Monday, September 9th, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea has approved for the first time the hoisting of South Korea’s national flag and playing of its anthem on the communist country’s soil, the unification ministry said Friday.

The move comes as the North invited South Korean weightlifters to attend the 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Championship to be held in the communist country, the Ministry of Unification said.

If realized, it will be the first time in history that South Korea’s national flag, the Taegeukgi will be raised and the national anthem performed in North Korea.

The ministry in charge of all inter-Korean relations said it approved the cross-border trip by the 41-member team made up of South Korean weightlifters and officials who plans to visit Pyongyang next week for a nine-day stay to attend the international sporting competition. The event is set from Sept. 11-17 in the North Korean capital.

Officials here said approval was given because the event is an international gathering organized by the Asia Weightlifting Federation, and Pyongyang vowed to guarantee the safety of the athletes from the South.

Such reconciliatory gestures from both sides are in line with a recent series of signs of thawing relations following a deal to restart the shuttered joint industrial park in the North’s border city of Kaesong and to arrange reunions for families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.

In 2008 I attended a DPRK-ROK World Cup prelim match in Shanghai.  The game was supposed to be held in Pyongyang, but the North Koreans refused to allow the South Korean anthem and flag to be used (as the South Koreans had done).

Read the full story here:
N. Korea allows S. Korean flag hoisting, anthem for first time
Yonhap
2013-9-6

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Rodman makes second trip to DPRK

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-12-1): Macleans has more information on how Rodman arranged his second trip to the DPRK:

Sometime last spring, Dennis Rodman, the unpredictable, flamboyant NBA hall of famer, found he had a problem: How was he going to get back into North Korea?

As it happened, Rodman had a standing invitation from that hermetic country’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un—a man Rodman has described as “my friend” ever since his first trip to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) last March. But, the DPRK is not an easy holiday destination, and Kim hadn’t offered to send a personal jet.

Rodman’s first trip had been worry-free—it was arranged by the in-your-face media company Vice, which used Rodman’s allure as a former Chicago Bull (the ruling Kim dynasty has an enduring fascination with the team) to gain entry to the country and shoot an HBO documentary. But the Vice crew’s anti-Kim agenda had left North Korean officials, and Rodman himself, nonplussed. This time, Rodman wanted to go unencumbered by cameras and press people. So what to do?

“They tried to go to a travel agent, I guess, but obviously it doesn’t work that way,” says Joseph Terwilliger, a geneticist at the Columbia University Medical Center, who got involved in Rodman’s quest after successfully bidding on a basketball game with him at a charity auction. The pair shot hoops, but mainly they talked North Korea.

Terwilliger told Rodman he knew exactly who could help: Michael Spavor, a Canadian he’d first met at the bar of the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang some years ago, and who has developed a reputation for being one of those rare things—a foreigner whom the North Koreans have come to trust, and who can get things done in that country.

Spavor, 38, is not what you’d expect from an emissary to North Korea. An affable, mild-mannered type who grew up in a Calgary suburb, he first became intrigued by North Korea during a short stay in Seoul in the late 1990s, when, flipping through the Lonely Planet travel guide, he stumbled across the section on the DPRK—“just a little sliver in the back,” he recalls. “It was the most interesting part of the whole book.”

He went on to live in Pyongyang for six months in 2005, working as a teacher at a school affiliated with a Vancouver-based NGO. He’s been in and out of the DPRK ever since, developing key contacts in the regime along the way. Spavor speaks the North Korean dialect—a more formal variant of the southern—so fluently that he fools people on the phone, and he ran a school specializing in DPRK Korean in Yanji, the city in a largely Korean corner of northeast China where he now lives.

Not your typical line of work, and occasionally it raises eyebrows. Passing through the U.S. a few weeks ago, his unusual travel itinerary raised red flags with a customs official. Spavor asked if the officer had heard about Rodman’s trip to North Korea in early September. Sure, he had. “I organized it,” Spavor told him. “It was a blast.”

It was, in some ways, a bro vacation. Rodman’s entourage included; Christopher Volo, a mixed-martial-arts fighter, and Terwilliger, the Columbia prof, who also happens to be a pro tuba player. Terwilliger had become fascinated by the DPRK as a kid listening to shortwave radio from Pyongyang; he’d been on North Korea’s propaganda mailing list for years and found the material he received “interesting.” Together, the men sang, drank, ate and laughed with Marshall Kim, as he likes to be known, at his seaside retreat, a “seven-star” home-away-from-home that Rodman later compared to Ibiza.

“In the media, Marshall Kim Jung Un is portrayed as serious,” Spavor told Maclean’s in an interview. “But we were able to see a more charismatic, friendly side to him. He has a good sense of humour.”

Spavor carries official pictures, taken by a state photographer, of the encounter on his iPhone, and though he’s wary of whom he shows them to—Spavor is fastidiously careful in regards to everything DPRK-related—it’s clear from the shots that this was a casual affair enjoyed by Rodman, his entourage, and by Kim, who is thought to be around 30.

“Dennis and Marshall Kim talked, and Michael and I tried to translate as much as we could,” explains Terwilliger.

Then he corrects himself.

“I mean, Michael translated as much as he could to Korean,” he says. “I was more translating Dennis to English.”

The two Rodman visits to North Korea have received their share of ridicule—North Korea, after all, is a pariah state, with a troubling human rights record and a history of threatening its enemies, including the U.S., with nuclear destruction. But, Spavor, who has led many similar, though lower-profile, cultural-exchange tours there—students and faculty from Cambridge, Harvard and McGill have seen North Korea from the inside, thanks to his ministrations—saw Rodman’s visits as “a chance for international relationship-building, in this case, through the medium of sport.”

Asked if such an endeavour makes him an apologist for what many consider a pretty nasty regime, Spavor won’t be drawn in. “I’m really in no position to comment on political and human rights issues,” he says. “Those issues are better discussed between governments.”

During his time living in Pyongyang, Spavor was able to observe “regular, everyday life”—people going to work, young couples walking hand-in-hand, vibrant markets. “I met a lot of really beautiful people—so sweet,” he says. “It was contrary to what I’d heard, that they were cold. You hear about this mysterious, unfriendly place.”

He credits his good contacts in North Korea with his capacity to interact with the North Koreans on their own terms—a rapport he picked up while eating, drinking and singing with them during his brief time living there. “I really learned how to party with North Koreans—to party and enjoy myself in their environment,” he says. “I have a rare and odd skill that enables me to connect the DPRK to other people.” Spavor celebrated his birthday in North Korea in November, feasting on North Korean birthday cake, which he says was delicious.

It was his relationship with the North Korean regime that helped Spavor spirit Rodman through Beijing, where the basketball legend sought to keep a low profile, and onto a flight with Air Koryo, the North Korean airline. “You know, it’s not easy hiding a six-foot-seven black guy with tongue piercings and tattoos in China,” says Terwilliger.

Indeed, Spavor has carved out a reputation as a street-smart, savvy conduit, someone the North Koreans know is capable of discretion.

“If you sent a traditionally diplomatically minded person, it would be very difficult for such a person to deal with North Korea,” says Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul and a leading authority on North Korea. “Michael has a great deal of common sense, and he’s a very normal guy, but also very smart. He understands the society and he’s not afraid to experiment and do things that are unusual.” Hence, Spavor’s willingness to engage with the North Koreans on the basketball court.

Spavor’s unusual relationship with the North Koreans is driving plans, bankrolled by the colourful Irish bookmaking company Paddy Power, to mount a basketball exchange between the U.S. and the DPRK in January, when between 10 and 12 former NBA players—Spavor won’t name names—are due to arrive in Pyongyang to help coach North Korea’s national basketball team.

And it is Spavor, as a Canadian, whom officials in North Korea’s ministry of sport approached with the idea of setting up a hockey exchange between North Korea and Canada. The project is still in its early stages, but Spavor says there is interest from the NHL. He envisions NHL players and coaches arriving next autumn or winter to help train the country’s national team. As it turns out, the North Koreans do play hockey, in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Division III category, which also includes such lesser hockey nations as South Africa, Ireland and Greece. He’s also looking into organizing another sports exchange between North Korea and Canada—this one centred on skiing (the DPRK is poised to open its first ski resort, at the Masik Pass, on the country’s east coast).

The DPRK is borrowing from American culture in other ways, too. Spavor carries with him the Samjiyon, a North Korean-made tablet computer loaded with North Korean books, and with the republic’s answer to Angry Birds, a computer game called Gomuchong—rubber gun—that looks remarkably similar to the one-time iPhone sensation. Another stab at a cultural exchange? Perhaps. It may also be piracy.

UPDATE 2 (2013-9-8): Just as Kenji Fujimoto taught us the name of Kim Jong-un, Rodman has revealed to the world the name of Kim Jong-un’s daughter. According to The Guardian:

Dennis Rodman has already described Kim as an “awesome guy”. On Sunday, he told the Guardian the leader was also a “good dad” to his baby daughter, whom he named as Ju-ae.

“The Marshal Kim and I had a relaxing time by the sea with his family,” Rodman said of his recent visit to the world’s most isolated country. “We shared many meals and drinks where we discussed our plans to play a historic friendship basketball game between North Korea and the US as well as ways to develop their basketball team.”

“I held their baby Ju-ae and spoke with Ms Ri [Sol-Ju, Kim's wife] as well. He’s a good dad and has a beautiful family. Kim told me, ‘I’ll see you in December.'”

Rodman plans to organise a basketball game between American and Korean teams.

“Kim is a great guy, he loves basketball, and he’s interested in building trust and understanding through sport and cultural exchanges,” Rodman said. “I know in time Americans will see I’m just trying to help us all get along and see eye to eye through basketball and with my friendship with Kim I know this will happen.” Further details on the basketball match are expected on Monday.

If the Rodman in Pyongyang story wasn’t unusual enough, there is an extra twist – it is being sponsored by an Irish bookmaking firm, which cheerfully admits it has no experience of international diplomacy.

Paddy Power used Rodman for a promotional stunt involving bets about the new pope, after which the eponymous son of the founder of the firm went for “pizza and a few glasses of wine” with the ex-NBA star in Rome. Rodman then explained his “basketball diplomacy” idea.

Despite thinking it was “all a bit bonkers”, Power decided to get involved. He said: “If you’d told me about this 12 months ago I’d have got the men in white coats to take you away. It’s an unusual idea to say the least.”

Power stressed that the project did not mean that the company or Rodman “endorse or support” one of the world’s most repressive regimes, which has an appalling human rights record.

The company consulted a Korea expert at the International Crisis Group thinktank, which argues that this is not entirely a stunt.

“Someone might say that Dennis Rodman provides political legitimacy to the regime, or it can be treated as a propaganda coup,” said ICG’s Daniel Pinkston, who has been an expert on North Korea for 30 years. “I think that’s greatly exaggerated. If you have a former president of the United States, that factor might be much greater. But someone like Dennis Rodman can’t do that. He can’t lift sanctions – he doesn’t have that power or authority.”

“The risks and costs are very, very low, and what you’re creating is a channel for the exchange of ideas. It’s a very small channel, but it’s there.”

He said the interaction between Kim and Rodman sent out a signal to the world – and to North Koreans. “Here’s someone who’s one of the most nonconformist individuals you can think of. And here’s the leader, embracing him. That is an implicit signal – it’s OK to be different.”

The New York Times also reports:

On Monday, Mr. Rodman said Mr. Kim gave him the right to write a book about him.

Mr. Rodman said he would put together a team of 12 former N.B.A. stars to travel to Pyongyang in January for one week. He said he hoped to recruit people like his former Chicago Bulls teammate Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone. They will play a North Korean team on Jan. 8 and another game two days later, he said. Mr. Kim promised a stadium and 95,000 fans.

Mr. Rodman said he planned to travel to Pyongyang in December to help select and prepare a North Korean team. A second set of games between the teams will be played in June in Europe, according to an agreement between the North Korean minister of sports and Mr. Rodman that was read during the news conference on Monday.

Mr. Rodman said he accepted Mr. Kim’s request for him to train the North’s Olympic basketball team.

UPDATE 1 (2013-9-7): Reuters reports that Dennis Rodman has left without Kenneth Bae.

Former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman returned on Saturday from his second visit to North Korea this year where he again met the reclusive country’s leader Kim Jong-un, but did not come back with jailed American missionary Kenneth Bae.

“That’s not my job to ask about Kenneth Bae. Ask Obama about that. Ask Hillary Clinton,” he told a throng of reporters. “I don’t give a shit.”

Rodman showed reporters in Beijing pictures of him meeting Kim, and said he had given Kim a gift of his Bad Boy vodka, which “he loved”.

“He is my friend for life. I don’t care what you guys think about him. I don’t give a shit about what people around the world think about him,” he added.

Rodman’s latest trip was sponsored by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.

ORIGINAL POST (2013-9-7): Back in February Dennis Rodman made headlines by visiting the DPRK with the Harlem Globetrotters for a trip arranged by the new Vice show on HBO.

On September 3, Rodman returned to the DPRK for his second trip.

Here is coverage in Rodong Sinmun:

Supreme leader Kim Jong Un met ex-NBA star Dennis Rodman and his party on a visit to the DPRK.
He warmly greeted them and had a cordial talk with them.

Warmly welcoming Dennis Rodman visiting the DPRK again as a friend in a good season, Kim Jong Un told him that he might visit the DPRK any time and spend pleasant days, having a rest.

Saying he feels very grateful to Kim Jong Un for sparing a precious time to meet him and his party despite his tight schedule, Dennis Rodman said this is an expression of good faith towards the Americans.

He said that he was fortunate to revisit the DPRK as he has friendly relations with broad-minded Marshal Kim Jong Un.

Dennis Rodman evinced his will to contribute to boosting diverse sports and cultural exchange with the DPRK.

He presented Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju with a gift he prepared with the deepest respect for them.

Kim Jong Un, together with him and his party, watched a basketball match between the April 25 Team and the Amnokgang Team.

Kim Jong Un hosted a dinner for Dennis Rodman and his party.

Expressing his heartfelt thanks to Kim Jong Un for spending a lot of time for him and his party and according them the warmest hospitality, Dennis Rodman said he would remember this visit as an unforgettable beautiful memory all his life.

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KCNA on the DPRK’s economic progress

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Here is a recent article in KCNA on economic advancements. I post as a reference to what the North Koreans are most proud of when it comes to economic management.

DPRK Directs Efforts to Developing Economy

Pyongyang, August 16 (KCNA) — Marshal Kim Jong Un, in the 2013 New Year Address, set the building of a strong economy as a key issue in accomplishing the cause of building a thriving socialist nation.

In response to his New Year Address, the people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have made fresh upsurge in all economic sectors in the spirit of the “Masikryong Speed”.

Readjustment of the West Sea Barrage-Sinchon-Kangryong and Ongjin waterways was finished in ten days, while more than 1,000 hectares of fruit field has come into being in Pukchong County, South Hamgyong Province.

The Pyongyang Essential Foodstuff Factory and the Phyongsong Synthetic Leather Factory have become streamlined and the Vitamin C Factory and the Turf Research Center of the State Academy of Science were newly built on a modern basis.

Lots of industrial establishments across the country finished the first half-yearly assignments ahead of schedule.

The country’s science witnessed big achievements during the first half of the year.

The 10th national sci-tech presentation and show in the field of nano-technology and national sci-tech presentation in the field of mining industry took place, and an IT presentation was held on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Central Agency for Information of Science and Technology.

More than 140,000 hectares of land were afforested, 590 kilometers of roads repaired and 2,100 kilometers of riversides improved.

The Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum was newly built in a wonderful way on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Korean people’s victory in the Fatherland Liberation War (June 1950-July 1953).

The Rungna People’s Sports Park and Pyongyang International Football School were also built in Pyongyang.

A wave of innovations have been registered in building the Masik Pass Ski Resort, the reclamation project of the Sepho Tableland, the expansion project of the Kosan Fruit Farm and the construction of the second-stage Huichon Power Station.

The same is true with the construction sites of apartment houses for scientists, children’s hospital, dental hospital, Munsu Wading Pool and Mirim Riding Club.

All these projects are carried on as part of the efforts for implementing the plan of Kim Jong Un on turning the country into an economic giant.

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Koryo Tours reports the [probable] end of Arirang performance [but not really]

Monday, March 11th, 2013

UPDATE 1 (2013-3-11): Koryo Tours reports that the mass games will take place this year…and it will be “Arirang” themed.  The DPRK had earlier reported that Arirang had been consigned to history.  So it appears that management of the mass games is handled in much the same way as the management of economic policy. Here is what the Koryo Tours email had to say:

Today, Koryo Tours received confirmation of the mass games dates for this year. They are scheduled to run from JULY 22nd to SEPTEMBER 9th. These dates incorporate two of the biggest holidays in the DPRK this year – the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War on 27th July (Victory Day) and the 65th anniversary of the founding of the DPRK on September 9th (National Day) .

Despite claims last year that 2012 would be the last ever Arirang-themed performance, it seems that this is not the case and this year the theme will again be Arirang but we expect to see new scenes added in to make it bigger and better than ever before.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-7-11): I have relocated to the DC area and have begun clearing out the backlog of posts and emails. I should be caught up by the end of the week.

This morning, however, I wanted to point out a marketing email sent out by Koryo Tours:

Word from our sources in Pyongyang is that the Arirang Mass Games of 2012 will be the last – so we suggest you sign up now to ensure that you can see this remarkable event while it is still running。

While mass games have been performed since the 1940s in the DPRK the Arirang show is the largest and most impressive they have ever produced. Born in 2002, since 2007 it has been an annual event, but 2012 will be Arirang’s 10th anniversary, and it seems the powers that be have decided to close the curtain. As for the reason, our Korean partners suggest that the narrative needs to change with the times. Combining dance, gymnastics, propaganda, politics, music, and even unicycling, this spectacular performance chronicles the struggles of the Korean people suffering under Japanese occupation, moving into the independent era and building a modern country – basically the period linked to the first 100 years since the birth of North Korea’s Eternal President Kim Il Sung.

However, since 2013 marks the 65th anniversary of the foundation of the republic (Sept 9th) as well as the 60th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War (July 27th), organisers are reportedly planning a whole new performance for next year – for more news on this, please stay on our mailing list!

So if you haven’t seen Arirang yet, or if you want to see it one last time, this is your chance.

Koryo Tours is also repeating its Ultimate Frisbee Tour and Pyongyang’s first ever DJ set! Email them at info@koryogroup.com if you are interested.

You can read the full Koryo Tours newsletter here.

 

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