Recently, the Supreme Leader of North Korea attended a K-pop (Korean Pop) concert in Pyongyang, one of several moves made by the dictator that has shocked the world as he appears to be making uncharacteristic moves toward openness and diplomacy. Another such move, and one that could possibly have far greater, positive (or negative) implications, is the upcoming meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump. Many look at these moves with a degree of skepticism, pointing back to the DPRK’s long history of hostility, not to mention their countless internal human rights abuses that never seem to let up. A magical change of heart seems unlikely.
However, it is disingenuous to say that the spread of culture does not affect the way a country thinks. Many might scoff at something like K-pop having any sort of effect on politics or tensions that could lead to something as devastating as war — but saying that is not considering the whole picture. Barring any nefarious plot to act natural and whip around with some sort of sneak attack, Kim Jong Un’s attendance of the K-pop concert may be more of a symptom of the spread of South Korean culture (along with western culture), rather than some champion for it. Still, it is one of many significant turning points of late and may be indicative of at least one dictator’s interest in the outside world — infinitely more preferable than a reclusive state that boils and stews in its own corruption and power.
Despite the DPRK’s efforts in the past, it has proven very difficult to control information since the dawn of the internet. Access to a common cellphone, tablet or computer can often mean a link to the outside world. Controlling people is much easier when you can control the information being circulated among your own citizens, something that is likely becoming increasingly more difficult in North Korea. Authorities may have now realized that not only will they have to deal with enemies from the outside, but also a growing number of enemies from the inside as the regular North Korean citizens begin to realize what the rest of the world is really like. The only way to conquer this inevitable spread of information may be to embrace it and hope you come out looking like the good guy.
I personally witnessed something along these lines when I lived in Pakistan. Over the nine years I was there, Pakistan was constantly at the brink of war with India the entire time — and on one occasion they actually went to war. As time went on, the dropping of nuclear warheads on our doorstep was a legitimate concern that had us all on edge. Suffice to say, there were high levels of animosity held by the average Pakistani toward Indians as a whole. But, without fail, the staggering majority of Pakistanis that my family interacted with thoroughly enjoyed Bollywood movies — a type of film that is India, through and through. I always saw that as an extremely positive force there.
Without the spread of such culture, the “enemy” just becomes a nameless, faceless creature that must be destroyed. Things like this almost never directly affect policy, no. However, be it Bollywood, K-pop, or some other popular, light entertainment — the more cultures spread, intermingle and understand one another, the less the likelihood for war.
In early 2016, South Korea blasted K-pop across the border between the countries, and North Korea called it an act of war, saying they wanted to target and destroy the speakers. Now they are openly inviting such pop stars and that is a good thing, in my book. These slow, cultural bridges could not only help, but may be essential in a long-standing peace process.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.