Kim Jong Un is firing more missiles into the waters between North Korea and Japan, a sign that he needs attention again. Apparently, the collapse of the Hanoi summit in February and the fact that nobody seems willing to lift the sanctions on Pyongyang without complete denuclearization is making him feel isolated.
So, boom boom, splash splash.
We’ve been through this rigamarole before and it’s not as if we have anything to be particularly worried about. According to the Japanese news outlet NHK, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday’s launch of two short-range missiles had “no immediate impact on Japan’s security.” But it sure got everyone’s attention — especially with Stephen Biegun, the administration’s North Korea negotiator, in the region for talks with South Korea and Japan over North Korean denuclearization.
If launching missiles to get attention seems like an odd way to conduct foreign policy, it might be good to examine who we’re dealing with here. We always throw around the term “madman” when it comes to the North Korean leader. It’s the correct word, of course, but I don’t think we put into perspective just what that means in relation to Kim Jong Un.
Well, perhaps this should fill in a few of the blanks for you about the leader whose first summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore went so smoothly, and whose second in Vietnam ended in collapse:
“Ahead of the second summit in Hanoi, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un requested as part of the agreement between the countries moving forward that the U.S. send ‘famous basketball players’ to normalize relations between the two countries, according to two U.S. officials,” ABC News reported on Thursday
“The request was made in writing, officials said, as part of the cultural exchange between the two countries, and at one point the North Koreans insisted that it be included in the joint statement on denuclearization. The North Koreans also made a request for the exchange of orchestras between the two countries.”
The part about the orchestras might sound a little odd, but orchestras have a storied place in American diplomatic history. The “famous basketball players” part, on the other hand, is 100 percent KJU-tastic.
Kim has long been a fan of the roundball, striking up a preternatural friendship with Dennis Rodman. The former Chicago Bulls and Detroit Pistons star actually brought a team of former NBA all-stars to North Korea to play the country’s national team back in 2014.
This being North Korea, the NBA all-stars lost to the North Koreans despite the fact the DPRK’s team is currently unranked by FIBA, basketball’s world governing body. (Good thing, too, because the idea of Vin Baker becoming an ur-Otto Warmbier is a distinctly unpleasant one.)
Oh, and Rodman sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim, since the little dictator was turning 31 at the time.
Here’s video of that, just in case your day wasn’t odd and depressing enough:
“Dennis gave an improvised speech where he thanked the American players for coming and described them as ‘very brave’ to join him on this engagement mission,” a tour guide with the group told NK News.
“After thanking everyone, he led everyone on a singalong of ‘Happy Birthday.’ I don’t think everyone quite knew what to do. Many did join in, but a lot of people just looked bemused.”
So, would basketball diplomacy work? The State Department was decidedly mum on the idea.
“While we did not reach an agreement with the DPRK [North Korea] at Hanoi, we exchanged detailed positions and narrowed the gap on a number of issues,” a State Department official said in a statement to ABC News.
Surprisingly, however, the idea of using basketball players to make inroads with Pyongyang isn’t new and it’s not just an idea floated by Kim Jong Un at the failed Hanoi summit.
“Basketball diplomacy has been tossed around in the past as a way to breakdown roadblocks with Kim, who is a diehard basketball fan. Since boarding school in Switzerland, Kim has said he loves playing basketball and would wear a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt and Nike sneakers,” ABC News reported.
“During the Obama administration, State Department officials considered sending basketball players to North Korea to jumpstart diplomatic efforts, according to the Washington Post.”
Even the current ruler’s father was a fan of the cagers.
“When I was there on my trips, the father [Kim Jong Il] through his foreign ministry people wanted me to extend an invitation to Michael Jordan,” former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who was part of a Clinton White House negotiations blitz with the North Koreans in 2000, said in an interview that year, according to ABC.
Jordan, wisely, declined.
The media can infantilize President Trump all they want. Most Americans people look past those stories anyway, given the frequency with which they appear.
However, I think that we don’t infantilize Kim Jong Un enough.
The Hanoi summit may have failed because Kim wanted sanctions lifted without complete denuclearization. Yet, the fact that basketball players actually had a role in the negotiations is the kind of thing Mel Brooks could have had a field day with.
Unlike Max Bialystock, however, Kim controls missiles.
Not very good ones, mind you, but when he fires them off as a message from a madman, they’ll do the trick.
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