The government of Kim Jong-un is one of the world’s most repressive, holding North Korea’s 25 million people in a virtual slave state. A third or more of North Koreans suffer from malnutrition. The regime’s penal camps are among the harshest on Earth, with a reported 20 per cent of inmates dying within 12 months of incarceration.
The slightest sign of opposition brings swift and brutal reprisals, not only against the alleged offenders, but also against their parents and children, and often their extended families under the government’s “three generations of punishment” rule.
What’s more, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons development program has brought North Korea into the nuclear club. It has put it on the verge – if it isn’t there already – of being able to launch nuclear-warhead-equipped missiles with intercontinental range.
Judging by the western media’s fawning adulation of North Korea’s official delegation to the Winter Olympic Games being held in South Korea, however, the bloodstained hands of Kim Jong-un and his family are scarcely worth mentioning.
Reuters headlined its coverage by declaring “North Korea heading for diplomacy gold.” The Toronto Star noted that “South Koreans dazzled by the arrival of the ‘Ivanka Trump’ of North Korea.” The Australian declared that “North Korea is Winning the Olympics,” a headline echoed by CNN in its story that “Kim Jong-un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics.”
The presence of Fred Warmbier whose son, American college student Otto Warmbier, was brutalized by the North Korean regime and died shortly after being released from prison, was scarcely worth a mention by the international media. Warmbier travelled to the Olympic Games to draw attention to the power and brutality of the Kim regime.
Instead, much of the international media chose to focus their attention on the 230 strong “army of beauties,” that North Korea dispatched to the games to cheer the combined South Korea-North Korea women’s hockey team. It didn’t help much – the team lost their opening game to Switzerland 8-0.
This isn’t the first time that the North Korea has unleashed its cheerleading squad. The cheerleaders made their first appearance at the Asian Games in 2002 and have appeared in other international sporting events since.
The presence of the North Korean delegation was widely heralded as a diplomatic triumph, one that would drive a wedge between Seoul and the United States, and as a rebuke to the hardline policy of President Donald Trump toward North Korea. But it’s hard to see exactly what the cheerleading diplomacy accomplished.
The photogenic Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, attended several functions, including a lunch with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. She also extended an invitation for Moon to visit North Korea.
This was the first time that a member of the Kim family had visited South Korea since 1953. North Korea has extended invitations to South Korean presidents to visit the north before. The last such meeting was more than 10 years ago.
What was the diplomatic triumph in the cheerleader diplomacy?
The prospect of a thawing in relations between the two countries would make the likelihood of South Korea supporting a U.S.-led attack on North Korea less probable. But the prospect that South Korea would support such an attack has been very low from the moment the nuclear crisis began to unfold.
Whether North Korea’s initiative will lead South Korea to distance itself from the U.S. remains to be seen, but it’s highly unlikely. It will take more than “an army of beauties” to reduce South Korea’s widely held and deep distrust of North Korea and its ruling Kim family.
What is undisputable, however, is the absolute intellectual bankruptcy and lack of rigour in much of the western media’s reporting of the North Korean presence at the Olympics. That a corrupt, repressive regime would get such gentle treatment at the hands of the western media is appalling.
Clearly the Trump administration grossly miscalculated in sending Vice-President Mike Pence as the head of the U.S. delegation. Judging from the mainstream press’s response, had the U.S. sent the Dallas Cowboys cheerleading squad instead, it’s likely that the Korean nuclear crisis would have been amicably resolved by the end of the Games.
There are certainly aspects of the Trump administration that warrant criticism, not the least of which is the style in which Trump has articulated U.S. policy toward North Korea. But is the international media so blind in its disdain for Trump and his administration that they would whitewash the crimes of one of the world’s most repressive regimes?
Apparently so. Intellectual and moral bankruptcy doesn’t even begin to describe this coverage.
Joseph Micallef is an historian, best-selling author and, at times, sardonic commentator on world politics.
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