WINNING THE PROPAGANDA WAR
If the organisers of the Winter Olympic Games awarded medals for cheer leading or propaganda, North Korea would have walked away with double gold.
The champion attention-grabbers were the two hundred North Korean women who performed synchronised cheers throughout events, which involved athletes from their country competing alongside people from the host nation, South Korea.
At one point, the North Korean women raised masks to their faces which resembled Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of current dictator Kim Jong-un. It was a moment which thrilled the press photographers, who sent their pictures around the world and set social media ablaze.
Afterwards, Kim Jong-Un, who did not attend, basked in the reflected glory. He used state media to unctuously praise South Korea for its ‘very impressive’ and ‘sincere’ efforts in hosting the Olympics and spoke of a ‘warm climate of reconciliation and dialogue’.
This led to some rather astonishing headlines in the press, suggesting that North and South Korea – still officially both at war – might actually have become friends again.
Only a few months ago, North Korean propaganda threatened to turn Seoul, Tokyo and Washington to dust. Yet South Korea’s President, Moon Jae-in – the son of North Korean refugees – longs to meet Kim Jong-un face-to-face. At the Games, he was presented with an invitation to the North, which he will almost inevitably accept.
The North’s propaganda, as usual, was crudely transparent. It attempted to shape an image of a country full of ‘normal people’ who enjoy sport and singing. But the cheerleaders and athletes come from a state which controls every emotion with an iron rod, even sporting joy.
South Korea bore the financial burden of bringing the delegation from the North to the Games. President Moon calculated that this generous act would prevent the North from disrupting the Olympics with violent threats. He ended up buying his adversary days of primetime television from which to deliver its propaganda message.
The Olympics created a dilemma for another of Kim Jong-un’s threatened targets, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Mr Abe wanted to promote Japan as a friendly nation and also to support Japanese athletes, especially as Tokyo will host the Olympics in 2020.
Yet he was wary of being drawn into the propaganda campaign or to be seen as ‘going soft’ on North Korea. He also has issues with South Korea, which often stirs up bad memories over the period when it was occupied by Japan.
At the start of the games, Mr Abe met South Korea’s President Moon. He also briefly met with the ceremonial head of state of North Korea, Kim Yong-nam,now aged 90 and a living symbol of the ruling dynasty.
Mr Abe’s aides told reporters that during that short meeting, he raised the issues of missile tests and abducted Japanese citizens. It is doubtful that Kim Yong-nam paid the least bit of attention.
Soon negotiations will start about bringing President Moon up North to Pyongyang for the historic meeting with Kim Jong-un. America and Japan can do little to stop the summit going ahead. The South may ask for concessions – such as a cessation of missile tests – but it is doubtful that an Olympic spirit of rapprochement will halt the North’s threats. The North regards the forthcoming summit with the South, like the Olympics, as a photo opportunity and a chance to press for reunification on its own untenable terms. The meeting will do nothing to ensure sustainable peaceful coexistence on Asia’s most dangerous peninsula.