[NK News] Foreign fiction present in North Korea, though restricted

With some of the tightest restrictions on information on the planet, North Korea would never be called a book lover’s paradise. But aside from the domestic propaganda that spans media from comic books to newspapers, a North Korean bookworm can hope to access a limited, but increasing selection of foreign fiction, according to sources familiar with the country.

The choices available, however, could largely depend on where they live and if they can speak a foreign language.

“It’s getting easier to read books and sell books these days. It has been changing since (under) Kim Jong Il,” one recent defector surnamed Kim told NK News on condition of anonymity.

Kim, who left the northern city of Chongjin within the last two years, said officially sanctioned and translated foreign literature includes classics such as Gulliver’s TravelsTess of the d’UrbervillesRobinson CrusoeAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Gone with the Wind.

Gone with the Wind, in particular, has often been noted for its popularity in the country, even coming preloaded on a domestic version of the iPad.

While books with overtly political or religious themes are banned, classic Western, Chinese and Russian novels, as well as poetry, are sold at bookshops, albeit at prohibitively high prices, Kim said. He said a single book can cost $4-5. The average monthly wage for a worker in the country is around $40, according to an estimate by North Korea scholar Andrei Lankov.

Cho, a defector who said she worked as a librarian for five years, said books were available at libraries and chaekbang (book rooms), but were carefully selected by the authorities. She remembers reading two Chinese novels that were edited by the government: Dream of the Red Chamber and Light and Shadow.

“At those places, the government provides books to be lent and sold,” said Cho, who arrived in South Korea within the last five years but refused to name her hometown out of concern for her family still in North Korea. “But there, all the books are used for the government’s policies or propaganda.”

Novels are also sold on the black market and rented among the public, often for considerable sums, Kim said.

“There a lot of people selling books illegally in markets to make money,” said Kim, adding that he believes some government officials smuggle books into the country to make extra cash.

There a lot of people selling books illegally in markets to make money’

Cho painted a similar scene of the black market.

“There are many cases of individuals secretly selling on the black market after unsuccessfully trying to apply to sell at a government-approved business,” she said. “The age group varies, but there are many relatively poor people in their 20-30s.”

The experiences of another defector, surnamed Lee, also suggest that access to foreign fiction was previously more limited.

Lee said she had no experience of foreign novels before she left the country seven years ago. Even expressing curiosity about the outside world would have been dangerous, she said.

“Compared to before, it could be easier to find that sort of material. I think it could also depend on the region,” said Lee, who left the northern border area of Ryanggang Province while she was still in middle school.

At school, Lee’s exposure to literature was limited to stories extolling the ruling Kim family.

“There are books written by Kim Il Sung from my parents’ generation and I’ve seen people of that generation read those,” she said. “If you compare seven years ago to now, there is a greater variety of information.”

She also remembers being able to borrow books at train stations, but these were limited to stories about the Japanese occupation and other government- friendly narratives. Regardless, she said reading for leisure was not especially common.

“Everyone is so busy with work and life that they don’t have time to read books,” she said.

While access to foreign books may have become easier, the choice for readers of Korean appears to be still limited to the classics. Kim said he not seen or heard of any recent fiction translated in the country.

The situation is much different for North Koreans who can speak English in relatively wealthy and cosmopolitan Pyongyang, according to Simon Cockerell, general manager of Koryo Tours and a frequent visitor to the country.

“I know quite a lot of people who’ve read Harry Potter. It’s quite popular among younger women, but these are English-speakers,” he said.

Cockerel said that such titles would probably come from a foreigner or friend who’d been abroad, as he’d never seen any in book shops in the capital.

“It wouldn’t amazingly shock me if someone told me they’d read a fairly recent work of foreign literature,” he said. “I wouldn’t consider that to be particularly remarkable in Pyongyang.”

The reading preferences of the capital’s middle class also throw up what might be considered an unlikely author.

Sidney Sheldon, an American writer of suspense novels who died in 2007, has a sizable following among those who can read English, Cockrell said.

“Honestly, you’ll find a lot North Koreans who’ve read of English novels might mention Gone with the Windand or books by Jack London, then Sidney Sheldon, as if Sidney Sheldon is part of the pantheon of great Western literature. Why that is, I honestly have no idea.”

Jeong Gwang-myeong and Lee Mi-sun contributed to this article. 

The names of some interviewees were changed to protect their identity. Some timelines were also slightly altered.

Advertisements

[The Christian Science Monitor] Having built nation from scratch, elderly S. Koreans feel abandoned

Jeong Soon-ja spent a lifetime working and raising children as part of a generation that lifted South Korea from rural squalor and postwar ruin to become the world’s 15th  largest economy.

Yet like many of her peers, Ms. Jeong lives in poverty and isolation. Too frail to work, her husband gone, her children seemingly disinterested, she survives on a government pension of about $200 a month, plus a monthly allotment of kimchi and rice from a district office in the gritty Seoul neighborhood of Gaebong-dong, which lacks the glitz of districts like Gangnam.

“When I was young, I should have saved money, but I had to feed, clothe and teach my children,” says the octogenarian, who sits on her haunches, a stance ingrained among older Koreans. She did laundry and maintenance work all her life and now has no pension, and says, “my money is all gone.”

Family ties weakening?

Jeong’s situation is becoming more common among a generation given credit for aiding South Korea’s lightning rise to manufacturing and high tech prowess. A new government-funded study shows nearly half of South Koreans over 65 living in relative poverty as recently as 2011, in a society whose traditionally strong family bonds are weakening.

One of Jeong’s six children pays her rent and utilities. But in a culture that honors the elderly, she hasn’t seen her eldest or youngest daughter in five years, and rarely hears from the others.

Almost half of elderly South Koreans earn less than 50 percent of the median wage, according to a March study from the Korea Labor Institute. That abysmal rate is the lowest of all countries in the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, and is twice the figure of second-ranked Switzerland. (In Japan, a recent study found nearly half of the 1.6 million Japanese living below the poverty line were elderly.)

In South Korea, most seniors in financial straits live alone. Whereas it was once common for three generations to live under one roof, about one in five elderly citizen now resides in a single-occupant household.

Low birth rate

“In the past, when a grandfather and grandmother, or a mother and father, taught their children, those children had a responsibility to support them because living all together like this was a help to everyone,” says Kim Hyun-mi, general manager of the government-affiliated Comprehensive Support Center for the Elderly Living Alone. “But now, you can see that support has weakened because they live separately.”

The challenge of providing for the old is particularly acute in South Korea, which has one of the most rapidly graying populations in the world, a consequence of a chronically low birthrate.

Jo Joon-yong, a professor of social welfare studies at the regional Hallym University, says that the elderly are projected to account for a quarter of the population by 2030, creating a potential future crisis for the welfare system.

“To maintain a social security system, you need a young generation to pay taxes and premiums for the social insurance system,” he says.

Amid the decline in filial piety in Korean families, the government has only marginally plugged the gap in support. Last year, South Korea had the lowest social spending of any OECD country.

President Park Geun-hye campaigned in 2012 on a pledge of introducing a universal state pension of about $200 a month. But that figure got scaled back to about $100-200 for the poorest 70 percent of seniors. Seniors who receive such benefits potentially lose out on separate, means-tested assistance for the poor.

Problems of living alone

The feasibility of more generous welfare schemes has been a political flash point between liberal and conservative politicians in a nation that is roughly divided along these general lines. Political gridlock may be slowing welfare reform, but more social spending in future appears inevitable, given the aging population.

“I think that because it is now in the beginning phase, welfare benefits for the old are insufficient compared to other countries, but in the future welfare benefits will be provided stably just like in advanced countries,” says Ms. Kim, the support center official.

Mental health, loneliness, and what Kim calls “emotional problems” are becoming more pressing concerns among elderly living alone, she says.

South Korea has the highest overall suicide rate in the OCED, and men aged 80 and above die by their own hand at almost five times the rate of those aged 30-39, according to government statistics.

Jeong, who speaks in loud, defiant bursts, insists she is satisfied with life. She regularly meets friends. But she also admits to being lonely.

Above all, she misses her daughters, who she has become convinced no longer love her. Even when she recently was hospitalized for an emergency, they did not visit.

“I really miss my daughters but they never contact me,” she says. “I miss my daughters the most. That’s the saddest thing.”

[The Christian Science Monitor] ‘Nut rage’ in S Korea spotlights culture of punishing long hours

South Korea’s “nut rage” scandal has unleashed long-simmering public resentment over the makeup of family-run conglomerates here.

Now the saga – where the daughter of Korean Air‘s chairman turned around a taxiing aircraft after being served bagged nuts in first class – is casting a light on the country’s relentless work culture. New revelations show the chief flight attendant who oversaw the nuts presentation was ordered to work shifts lasting up to 18 hours.

Testifying at the trial of the daughter, Cho Hyun-ah, who at the time was a Korean Air vice president, flight attendant Park Chang-jin said he was assigned a “work schedule from hell” after the incident that received international press attention. Ms. Cho potentially faces three years in prison if convicted of assault and aviation-safety related charges.

Mr. Park’s testimony resonates strongly in a society with some of the longest work hours in the world, undergirding a work culture that has seen South Korea rise from poverty in the 1960s to the top ranks of world economies.

According to statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Koreans on average work 47 days more days a year, about a month and a half, than their American peers.

Yet as Korea punches above its weight as a economic force after decades of a work ethic designed to help it surpass its neighbors, and former peer North Korea, a new round of grumbling about over-work and work place policies is starting to emerge.

No time for hobbies

Son Hye-jin, a sales representative at a clothing export firm in Seoul, for example, often feels she has no life outside the office. She begins work at 8 am, and doesn’t finish until 7 or 8 at night. Weekends are no guarantee of relief, as work often extends to Saturdays.

“If I had some free time, I think I would like to learn this or that, or take up a hobby, but it’s impossible because I don’t know how much overtime I will have to do,” she says. “You’ve no choice but to work, right?”

Small and medium-sized firms are notorious for pushing employees to work schedules at odds with labor laws that are supposed to strictly regulate work hours and pay.

As an employee at a mid-sized IT firm, 24-year-old Lee Eun-woo says she often worked for up to 17 hours to please her boss. “I was depressed. I really wanted to quit my job, but it was impossible because it is extremely hard to find a job in Korea these days.”

Like Son and many others, Lee wasn’t compensated for the mountains of work that extended outside her official workday of 9 to 6 and that she was expected to handle.

“That’s the reality at most small and medium companies. In our country, the places that actually give you money for overtime are large companies. At other small companies, it’s really hard to get.”

Social gatherings after hours

The rigors of work don’t end in the office. Employees often must attend afterwork dinners that turn into drinking sessions, called “hoesik.” While ostensibly set up to relieve work pressure and encourage bonding, such gatherings are often stressful, especially for women because of hierarchical norms.

“In the ‘hoesik’ culture, as a woman, the boss forces you to drink and tells you to show off your ‘aegyo,” says Lee, referring to a Korean expression for a type of affected cuteness prized in women.

At one such drink-fueled outing, Lee says she witnessed her former boss hit a subordinate for no apparent reason. As a lower-ranking employee, he had no choice but to accept his boss’s abuse, she says.

Korea’s demanding work culture largely stems from its rapid industrialization after the Korean War, according to Park Tae-gyun, a history professor at Korea University in Seoul. Park Chung-hee, a dictator who ruled for 17 years from the early 1960s, and is widely seen as the father of the country’s modernization, used South Koreans’ insecurities toward regional rivals like Japan, the former colonial power, to implement an intensive and regimented work culture.

“Actually, South Korea at that time was poorer than North Korea, so people believed that we should catch up with North Korea, and that was achieved in the early 1970s,” Prof. Park says, adding that a similar mentality pushed people to strive to catch up with Japan.

A culture of striving continues to guide society, he says.

“Every day, most parents say to their sons or daughters that, first of all, if they are students, ‘study hard’ — if they are more than 20, ‘please work hard.’ So that’s kind of Koreans’ habit still. They believe working hard is a way to live better.”

Signs of change

Albeit slowly, conditions are changing, as well as expectations. While still near the top of the global rankings, South Koreans today on average work about 350 fewer hours a year than they did in 2000.

Legislation to abolish the six-day work week at many companies came into effect in 2004. Successive governments have recognized the need to reduce work hours, for both economic and social reasons, although some businesses, as well as workers who want overtime pay, have opposed such moves.

Park says the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which led to unprecedented mass layoffs, effectively upended many Koreans’ expectations of a job for life. Some began to prize their leisure time and develop interests outside the workplace.

But for some Koreans, change can’t come fast enough. Fed up with negative experiences of the workplace and job market in her country, Lee moved to San Francisco in July to study English and plans to pursue a career in software development abroad.

“Korean society is rampant with a culture of poor workplaces,” she says.

[UCA News] South Korean Catholics seek healing across border

The division of the Korean Peninsula has outlasted the Cold War, numerous political leaders and repeated attempts at rapprochement. But as the 70th anniversary of division approaches next year, a group of Catholic clergy in South Korea is seeking engagement with the controversial state-sanctioned Church in North Korea in the hope of overcoming decades of separation and confrontation between the countries.

The Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People is working to hold a conference with the Pyongyang-approved Joseon Catholic Association next year to mark the anniversary and pray for peace, in the latest effort by South Korean Catholics to bridge the sides.

“The intention of the God we trust in is telling us to overcome division and conflict, and achieve reconciliation and concord,” Fr Lee Eun-hyung, the secretary-general of the organization under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, told ucanews.com. “It is saying let’s meet and pray together to overcome the current danger and crisis. The goal of this event is to say let’s gather our minds in prayer for peace.”

Lee said representatives from both sides agreed in principle to a faith conference during a meeting in Beijing last month but said an exact date and venue has yet to be set.

The group would need the approval of the governments of both Koreas for any event to go ahead.

The Catholic Church has often been associated with liberal activism in South Korea, a key focus of which is engagement with North Korea. In May, Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung, the archbishop of Seoul, visited an industrial park in North Korea jointly run by both governments. The South Korean hierarchy also invited its neighbor to send worshippers to events related to Pope Francis’ visit in August, though Pyongyang declined the offer.

Cooperation with North Korea, however, remains especially politically sensitive in a country that remains technically at war with its neighbor. South Korea’s sweeping National Security Law makes praise of the Kim Jong-un regime a crime and prohibits contact between the sides without prior government permission.

“The biggest challenge is the political situation between South and North Korea. I hope political influence does not influence religious or private exchanges, but if you look at the process up until now, it doesn’t look like it will be easy,” said Lee.

Also fraught is the very nature of the so-called Church north of the border. North Korea is ranked the least free country for practicing Christianity by Open Doors, an American NGO that tracks religious persecution worldwide. Extensive defector testimony has documented the imprisonment and execution of Christians for practicing their faith.

The fate of the Church could hardly have diverged more widely on the other side of the border: The Church in South Korea managed to almost triple its congregation between 1985 and 2005, defying the decline seen in other developed countries.

“They [the Kim regime] see it as a major challenge, a challenge coming from a completely different philosophical viewpoint, on the one hand, but also pretending to be a universal explanation of everything, like juche,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Seoul’s Kookmin University and longtime North Korea watcher, referring to the state ideology of self-reliance.

A state-approved Church has existed in the capital Pyongyang since 1988, but defectors and human rights groups consider it a sham set up to fool outside visitors.

Andrei said that while genuine believers may exist within it, the North Korean Catholic leadership is largely comprised of members of the State Security Department, the regime’s secret police.

But he added that it is possible they could be influenced to question the regime through meetings with outsiders.

“They are human beings, they have brains,” said Lankov. “If you look, say… at the disintegration of the Soviet Union, you will be surprised how many of the subversive ideas got to the Soviet Union through the KGB, the Foreign Ministry, through all these carefully selected people.”

Lee himself acknowledged that there are no legitimate priests in the country, but expressed hope of reaching North Koreans with a Catholic background.

“There are no priests but there are people who have been baptized. There are people who were baptized before the division, and there are also people involved in the religious exchange process who have been baptized,” he said.

Asked about the possible presence of government agents among purported Catholic representatives, Lee said it was hard to comment on an “internal problem”.

“There are many disappointing things to me about the religious conditions in North Korea, but I think it is fortunate that there is a representative group with whom to push for a meeting.”

Lee was adamant that their modest proposal could eventually grow into something much bigger for the benefit of all.

“Although it is now just a small and simple meeting, I believe these efforts for a meeting will bear large fruit one day through the Lord.”

[Christian Science Monitor] North Korea chooses optimum moment to release Americans Bae and Miller

The surprising weekend release of two Americans detained by North Korea has spurred the usual flurry of speculation over why the secretive regime in Pyongyang let them go.

North Korea watchers agree the freeing of Mr. Bae, an evangelical who had been in a labor camp for two years, and Matthew Miller, who was detained in April, certainly facilitates the strategic objectives of the Kim Jong-un dictatorship.

The releases appear to be Act Two of a process that began last month with the release of Jeffrey Fowle. The most likely scenarios are the North’s concern about being indicted for crimes against humanity at the United Nations, or that it is seeking talks or at least a diplomatic thaw with the US over its nuclear program, or both.

“N. Korea might… decide the timing now to prevent discussing North Korea human rights issues and North Korean denuclearization and additional actions on those two issues between the U.S. and China,” Mr. Song says.

In recent months North Korea has launched one of its rare diplomatic offenses overseas, designed to counter the possibility of a UN Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague, based on years of abuses and killings in its labor camps.

But John Delury, professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, is skeptical that this issue, rather than outreach to the US, is driving Pyongyang’s policy. “They take their relationship with the United States very, very seriously, it’s one of their top strategic relationships, and it trumps [the issue of] human rights,” he says. The release of Bae and Miller removes an “irritant in their relationship with the Obama administration.”

North Korea has repeatedly called for the revival of six-nation talks over nuclear denuclearization, without preconditions. The US has insisted the regime demonstrate its sincerity through action. The talks involving the US, China, both Koreas, Russia and Japan have been dormant since 2008 when Pyongyang walked away from the negotiating table.

US officials insisted this weekend that no quid pro quo arrangement was made in the release of the two Americans. Obama said at the APEC summit on Monday that there had been no discussions on denuclearization.

But Mr. Delury says it is highly possible that Clapper did broach the nuclear issue, despite its denials.

“The Obama administration seems to put it as a point of pride, like we weren’t suckered into talking about this nuclear issue,” he says. “But that seems a little odd as a strategy. I mean, you send your intelligence director to Pyongyang, why would you not feel the North Koreans out?”

Bae was arrested two years ago while leading a tour group from China into the North and was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for spreading “Christian propaganda.” Miller arrived in Pyongyang as a tourist in April and tore up his visa, apparently so that he could be sent to a labor camp as a witness to alleged abuses. 

[Christian Science Monitor] North Korean leader misses key anniversary as rumors still swirl

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un remained out of sight Friday on one of his country’s most important political anniversaries, adding fuel to weeks of speculation about his absence.

His nonappearance on the 69th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party marked the young dictator’s 38th day missing from public view. Mr. Kim, who paid his respects to his late father and grandfather on previous anniversaries, has never gone more than three weeks without making an appearance in North Korean media, which usually follow his every move.

Observers contend that Kim’s prolonged absence is less remarkable than how it’s portrayed in foreign media. They dismiss many reports as breathless conjectures that illustrate the difficulty of obtaining accurate information about one of the world’s most secretive regimes.

Kim went missing for about 20 days in 2012 and again for two weeks this past April, says Michael Madden, who runs the blog North Korean Leadership Watch. Mr. Madden points out that Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, would also disappear for long periods of time during his 17-year reign.

“There is an absence of information, and people are going to fill it however they are going to fill it,” he says. “Some of this obviously comes from government officials who are under pressure to come up with an explanation for the boss. That’s not entirely unheard of.”

Amid rumors of a coup or even an assassination, the most credible explanation for Kim’s absence may be that he is suffering from health problems. An unnamed source with access to the North Korean leadership told Reuters that Kim was recovering from a leg injury, the news outlet reported Thursday.

Andrei Lankov, a longtime North Korea watcher at Kookmin University in Seoul, doubts anything serious has happened to Kim. If the leader had died or been overthrown, Dr. Lankov says, “you would expect serious changes in the composition of the government.”

“Nothing like that has happened,” he says. “We see the same faces, the normal bureaucratic work of government.”

Lankov adds that recent visitors to the capital, Pyongyang, have not reported any cancelations of scheduled events or restrictions on traffic. He takes their reports as signs that things are relatively normal in North Korea despite Kim’s absence.

News outlets around the world often produce unverified and outlandish reports about North Korea, which has no independent media and prevents most of its citizens from leaving the country. In May, a popular North Korean singer performed in Pyongyang eight months after international media reported that the regime had executed her.

Even the South Korean government struggles to gather reliable information on the inner workings of its rival neighbor. The Unification Ministry, which handles cross-border relations, told local media on Friday that while the North Korean regime appeared stable, it had no information on Kim’s health.

South Korea’s intelligence agencies have a lot of difficulties acquiring accurate information on North Korea,” says Song Dae-sung, the president of Sejong Institute, a national security-focused think tank in Seoul. “All information in North Korean society has been so strongly controlled, so it is very difficult for us to say a definitive duration for Kim’s absence.”

[Christian Science Monitor] As Asian Games kick off, will North Korea flip its way into S. Korean hearts?

There is little to distinguish the North Korean delegation’s living quarters from among the two-dozen apartment blocks that make up the athletes’ village of the Asian Games opening this week in South Korea.

Hanging from the balconies of one tower, nine national flags provide the only obvious sign of Pyongyang’s participation in Asia’s biggest sporting event.

For many South Koreans, the competition that kicks off Friday is more than a mere sporting event. It doubles as the latest in a long list of attempts at engagement with the North, and has been a flashpoint for tension over how to best interact with the South’s oft-unruly neighbor.

“I really do hope [the Games are reconciliatory], but there is still a long way to go” says Ahn Sehyun, a professor of international relations at the University of Seoul, who sees the competition as a “stepping stone” to reinitiating talks between both sides.

‘We are one nation’

The North Koreans share their building with the delegation from China, Pyongyang’s only major ally. The South Koreans, divided from their countrymen in the North for more than 60 years, are accommodated in a separate building a short walk away.

Security has been tight since the first batch of North Koreans arrived last week under police escort from Incheon International Airport, where they were reportedly greeted with cheers of “We are one nation!” by a small group of South Koreans. An armored personnel carrier, SWAT officers, and metal detectors guard the entrance to the compound, restricting access inside. A second segment of the North Korean delegation, dressed in blue and white with the national flag on their lapels, was photographed in the local media this week flanked by security after they arrived.

Who pays for North Korea?

Just getting the North Koreans to the Games was a controversial task. In July, negotiations on the size and cost of hosting the North’s delegation broke down, leaving its participation in doubt.

Seoul eventually agreed to pay a portion of the 273-member delegation’s stay, declining to reveal the amount until after the event. At the last Asian Games in the country, held in 2002 under a liberal administration, South Korea paid the majority of the costs of North Korea’s participation.

Seoul’s conservative Park Geun-hye government, whose “trustpolitik” policy calls for trust-building with North Korea through mutual cooperation, may have an additional motivation for being determined to see its neighbor at the games, says Victor Cha, the top North Korean advisor to former US President George W. Bush and author of Beyond the Final Score: The Politics of Sport in Asia.

“The administration… wants to look like they are trying, at least, [and] doesn’t want to be blamed for excluding North Korea. There is always a good 25 percent of the South Korean electorate that views North Korea in sort of a more positive light,” he says.

Fundamental split

But North Korea’s participation has also generated controversy south of the border, highlighting the fundamental split in domestic politics between liberals who tend to be enthusiastic toward engagement and conservatives who remain guarded.

One controversy centered around North Korea’s cheerleaders – who won devoted fans in the South during the 2002 Games. Last month, Pyongyang reversed an earlier pledge to send cheerleaders, causing the Unification Ministry to send assurances that the cheerleaders were still welcome.

Even as the Unification Ministry insisted last month that North Korea’s cheerleaders would be received enthusiastically if they came, Seoul’s Defense Ministry described their appearance as a “shell” to conceal their true propaganda purpose.

Earlier this month, meanwhile, the national flags of the 45 participating countries were removed from the streets of Incheon following protests about the display of the North Korean flag.

“North Korea has an ulterior agenda for wanting to participate in the Asian Games,” says Song Dae-sung, the president of the Sejong Institute, a think tank in Seoul that specializes in security and regional affairs.

“The current image of Kim Jong-un has been the very negative one of being an authoritarian military dictatorship. North Korea is going to promote its fake, attractive image through its participation in the Games, hiding its original bad image.”

Aside from cynicism about North Korea’s true motives, some observers simply question the extent to which a sporting event can affect such an uneasy and complicated relationship between countries.

Effective sports diplomacy usually happens in the context of wider engagement, such as the “ping pong diplomacy” of the 1970s that marked a thaw in between the United States and China, says Mr. Cha.

“The problem, I think, in North-South [relations] right now is there isn’t a lot going on, and you just have this Asian Games thing there with the hope that it will somehow generate some sort of diplomat breakthrough. Unfortunately, the reality is the events don’t generate diplomatic breakthroughs if there is no prior undercurrent of policy sort of moving in that direction.”

“The problem, I think, in North-South [relations] right now is there isn’t a lot going on, and you just have this Asian Games thing there with the hope that it will somehow generate some sort of diplomat breakthrough. Unfortunately, the reality is the events don’t generate diplomatic breakthroughs if there is no prior undercurrent of policy sort of moving in that direction.”