Tuesday, February 26, 2008

If No One Builds in Pyongyang, Will It Still Be “Groundbreaking”?

Trivial? Perhaps…

The online version of the Washington Post carried this post-arrival story* in a follow-up to this print-version, page A02 report and this page A08 report, both pre-arrival, and pushed it on the online front page as of February 25 (EST)as

“N.Y. Philharmonic Begins Groundbreaking Visit”.

To correspondent Blaine Harden’s credit (or the Section A copy writer’s), the article itself carries a less ambitious headline:

N.Y. Philharmonic Arrives in North Korea Closed Country to Broadcast Concert on State Television.

Now the event does have the full backing of the Bush administration. To quote from the A08 report, "‘[The North Koreans] are alleging that we have a hostile policy and that's why they need nuclear weapons. The presence of the New York Philharmonic argues against that,’ Hill told the Los Angeles Times editorial board last week. ‘I don't see any downside to this.’" So Mr. Hill’s point is that the visit takes an excuse out of Kim Jong Il’s hands? So on February 27, after the NY Phil leaves, Hu Jintao and Lee Myung-bak are going to call Kim Jong Il and tell him, “See, America likes you,” and Dear Leader is going to lean back in his easy chair, smack his forehead, and say, “Dang, you’re right, I’m wrong. I’ll make a full declaration of our nuclear program, including our plutonium stockpile and nuclear warheads ASAP”?

Mr. Hill, of course, has been racing the clock and pulling out all stops to conclude the Second Phase Actions of the Six-Party deal. Anything that might help keep the ball in play is, in his eyes, a plus. But my view is that this trip is essentially a small, domestic propaganda coup for Kim Jong Il but will have little or no effect outside North Korean borders. For the sake of security in East Asia, I hope that he’s right, and I’m wrong. But in the meantime, it’s Maazel Tov for Kim Jong Il.

In the meantime, I have a few questions about the NY Phil playing the two national anthems in Pyongyang. Did it play The Star Spangled Banner and Kimi ga Yo (the Japanese anthem) in 2004 when it came to Japan? The South Korean anthem in Seoul?

And what are we to make of this controversy, where “North Korea has balked at South Korea playing its national anthem or raising its flag at a World Cup soccer qualifier in Pyongyang next month [March 26], claiming a neutral flag and traditional folk song should be used”? Granted, “[t]o promote unity at friendly sport events between the two Koreas in recent years, the sides have displayed a flag depicting a united Korea in blue and substituted the traditional folk song "Arirang" for their national anthems.” But this is an official FIFA event.

According to this report, South Korea’s Unification Ministry, in one of its last acts under President Roh, approved a list of 102 people to attend the Pyongyang concert. 72 of them are from MBC, a broadcasting station in Seoul. When will they trek to stand in Pyongyang for their own national anthem?

* Please note that WaPo has a later, very different report with a different title covering more or less the same subject on this URL now. This is the second time that I have seen this happen on WaPo and one of the reasons why I copy most articles for the record.

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