Last night the New York Symphony Orchestra performed in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. That event may well go down in history as a groundbreaking thaw in the relations between the rest of the world and one of the weirdest regimes the world has ever seen. So would a proposed visit by Eric Clapton later this year. Or it may, as hawks would imply, simply be seen as yet another propaganda tool by master propagandists who would make George Orwell proud.
The first group would applaud dialogue as the way forward and see cultural engagement as a boon to relations, notwithstanding the possibility of interpreting the move as a recognition of the regime.
It is funny, therefore, that the same group of people would be so critical of this fall’s Olympic Games in Beijing. Prince Charles has announced his absence from the event (for the record, he hasn’t been at the Olympics for decades). Certain people would also have Danish Prince Frederik stay home to protest human rights abuses and what not. Fortunately he has been wise not to meddle in politics and accept the fact that Denmark has good relations and many cultural and economic exchanges with the People’s Republic of China.
If engagement is the solution in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, than how much more is it so with China? This was understood by Nixon when he visited China in 1972. And by most accounts, China and North Korea are worlds apart. Both are communist by name, but China is a modern country with free markets and widely enjoyed personal freedoms. North Korea is more akin to 1984.
This is not to say that everything is perfect in China, but boycotting a country rarely produces good results on either part. The Olympic Games in Beijing will be a great leap forward for China. Whether that can also be said about last night’s concert in Pyongyang, only the future will tell.