Synopsis: Disney characters dancing on stage, women wearing short skirts, and a country’s new leader making speeches, smiling, and glad-handing military officers. In most places around the world, that’s nothing unusual. But for North Korea, it marks a sea change in image if not quite reality.
Political transition in Pyongyang has reached its apex with every major title bestowed on Kim Jong Un from head of the military to party boss. Despite concerns over a dynastic handover to the young and untested leader, purportedly just shy of 30 and apparently married, the regime didn’t collapse. The new Kim isn’t just continuing the family business of running a country. He’s a significant generational change, intended or not.
For the U.S., this tentative opening provides an opportune moment to re-engage with North Korea, but with a decidedly different approach. Back in 2008, the New York Philharmonic made a historic visit to Pyongyang and received a reserved, but warm reception. It was an opportunity to showcase the United States as non-enemy to a population fed on a steady stream of anti-American propaganda. The U.S. should now return the favor and invite North Korean musicians to New York.
Such a basic overture is neither reward nor acceptance of North Korea’s brutal human rights record, its brazen attacks on South Korean territory, or years of flaunting U.N. resolutions. It is a cautious, pragmatic step, nothing more. Ping-pong thawed U.S.-China Cold War enmity forty years ago. Perhaps a concerto or even a bit of jazz will do the trick this time around.
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