With Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader Kim Jong Un set to meet US President Donald Trump for historic talks in two months, Pyongyang has come out as the real winner of the recent Winter Olympics in the Republic of Korea (ROK), best-selling author Loretta Napoleoni told CGTN Digital, asserting that the country was able to successfully recast its image at the sporting event through a unique display of diplomacy that has led to the new breakthrough.
The Olympic diplomacy has substantially eased the tension in the Korean Peninsula while raising the prospects of an economic reconciliation, according to Napoleoni, whose latest book, “North Korea: The country we love to hate,” attempts to demolish Western preconceptions about the DPRK.
“I think North Korea [the DPRK] actually won the Olympics. Not in terms of number of medals, but definitely in terms of turning around the image of the country in the world,” Napoleoni said of the Korean diplomatic initiative which saw Seoul and Pyongyang field a unified women’s ice hockey team and Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong hog the limelight as she shared a platform with other international dignitaries.
Kim Yo Jong also met ROK President Moon Jae-in for lunch at Seoul’s presidential palace. This was followed by Kim Jong Un’s landmark meeting with a delegation from Seoul this week and a subsequent announcement of summit-level talks.
ROK President Moon Jae-in (left) shakes hands with DPRK leader Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, during the opening ceremony of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympic in PyeongChang, ROK, on February 9, 2018.
“The Olympic diplomacy has given a fantastic opportunity for peace and has so far been really successful. The images of the united Korean hockey team, the cheerleaders, athletes and Kim Yo Jong looking perfectly normal showed the human side of the DPRK to the world,” Napoleoni said in an exclusive Skype interview.
“It helped break the evil, dystopian image of the country,” added the author.
Napoleoni, 63, an Italian by birth who now divides her time between London, UK and Montana, US, is known for her critique of the West and its policies through her works spanning 15 years.
'Economic union on the cards'
She suggested that a potential DPRK-ROK rapprochement will see the Korean Peninsula emerge as a “very strong economic power.”
“While I don’t foresee a reunification of the two countries on the lines of Germany, for instance, I certainly see an economic union which would lead to free trade and a greater access to resources in the DPRK, leading to the Korean Peninsula becoming a very strong economic power,” Napoleoni predicted.
“A rapprochement between the two sides would be absolutely fantastic,” said the author, who tapped an array of sources and diplomatic contacts inside the DPRK to bring out the realities within the country in her book.
Stressing that Pyongyang and Seoul complement each other, Napoleoni explained how most of the agricultural land in the Peninsula is in the south while the north is rich in natural resources. “A unification in terms of economics and commerce will benefit both the countries. It would certainly be good for the DPRK for its opening up and modernization,” she said.
Napoleoni noted that while the DPRK may be an isolated country, it is not exactly a poor one. “There are countries much, much poorer than the DPRK. Despite it being under international sanctions, the economy has been growing at a phenomenal annual rate of 3 to 3.6 percent ever since Kim Jong Un took over as the leader in December 2011.”
'Kim knows the importance of change'
Offering a more balanced view of Kim Jong Un, who is often portrayed in the media as a brutal dictator, Napoleoni asserted that the DPRK leader realizes the importance of change. “He knows that the country needs to change in order for his regime to remain in power,” she said.
This has indeed been seen in the recent turn of events when Kim first met an ROK delegation in Pyongyang, and relayed through them his willingness to talk with the United States. He has reportedly hinted at giving up his nuclear arsenal if the country’s security was guaranteed.
Pyongyang and Seoul have also agreed to hold a summit later in April at the southern side of the border truce village of Panmunjom.
Napoleoni, however, believes that any rapprochement between the two sides will depend on the response of the international community, and most importantly, the US and China.
“Beijing is the true power of the region. It would be inconceivable to have any meaningful outcome in the Korean Peninsula without China being a partner in the same,” she said.
'Trump causes only verbal upheaval'
The author had always felt that there was no threat of escalation in tension from the US side, despite President Trump’s erratic tweets threatening annihilation of the DPRK.
“That’s the style of Trump, which is a different style from politicians we have seen before in the US. It’s basically a lot of words… a lot of verbal upheaval but then very little concrete action,” Napoleoni argued, citing the fact that there were fewer US-ROK military exercises in 2017 than the previous year.
“Trump is using that rhetoric [against the DPRK] for his own interests to consolidate his position at home. But I do not think that he wants to attack the DPRK,” she reasoned.
Both China and the US have welcomed the recent developments aimed at ending seven decades of hostility, Beijing saying it is willing to play a constructive role along with other nations to advance denuclearization of the Peninsula.
“We approve of and support the series of communication and interactions between the DPRK and the ROK during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games and are pleased to see the positive outcomes achieved by the two sides,” China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang said on Wednesday.
“We believe that this serves the common interests of all the people on the Peninsula as well as relevant parties and is also conducive to regional peace and stability. We hope that the DPRK and the ROK will earnestly act on relevant consensus and continue to advance the process of reconciliation and cooperation,” he added.