North Korea’s Cha-Cha Dance with the U.S.A

By | April 03, 2012 | No Comments

Jimin Lee is the Analyst for Performing Arts. While Lee has already looked at North Korea’s cultural diplomacy with China and France, today Lee’s gaze turns toward a perennial enemy of the DPRK, the United States. – Charles Kraus, Managing Editor

North Korea’s Cha-Cha Dance with the U.S.A

by Jimin Lee

The Washington Post reports that Robert Springs, President of Global Resource Services, will bring the North Korean National Symphony Orchestra to the U.S.A this spring. If true, the visit is an encouraging sign that the relationship between the U.S. and North Korea could be on the mend. The United States and North Korea announced last month that Pyongyang would halt nuclear activities and allow in U.N. nuclear inspectors in exchange for food aid. The cherry-blossom deal, however, appears to have been jeopardized as a result of North Korea’s plans to launch a rocket/satellite.  As a result of the downturn over the past several weeks, some critics argue that the North Korean visit to the U.S. appears unlikely to take place.

Music’s Diplomatic Track Record | With countless cases of successful musical diplomacy to cite, humanitarian nonprofits and musicians alike are hoping to bridge the divide between the U.S. and North Korea through music. When the New York Philharmonic performed in the capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, in January of 2008, critics noted that it was a “historic cultural exchange between musicians from two nations that remain enemy states.” One senior U.S. official even stated that “certain kinds of exchanges, like the visit by the New York Philharmonic…to Pyongyang, are precisely the kinds of activities that can promote better awareness on the part of North Korean leaders.”

In just the past several months, North Korea has sent out cultural exchange groups to China and Europe. North Korea’s Unhasu Orchestra, for example, held a joint concert with Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in Paris in March 2012, a performance which even included a South Korean conductor, Myong Whoon Chung. This was their latest trip following a visit to Beijing, China, in 2011. In bringing the North Korean National Symphony Orchestra to the United States, Robert Springs is simply attempting to continue North Korea’s track record of and preference for musical diplomacy. The details of the visit, however, are still being coordinated and the group must still obtain government approval before departing.


Compensating for Something? | These ongoing cultural exchanges raise the question of the authenticity and motivation of North Korea under the present political and military circumstances.

Recent reports on North Korea’s missile launch confirm that the regime will no longer put military action to the side. In the long run, this is a strategic tactic that is intended to bolster the regime’s unstable foreign policy with their stable cultural exchanges.

Owing to the renewed tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, G. Faruq Achikzad, a senior advisor to the Nautilius Institute, in a recent interview with the author cast doubt on the trip happening in the near future. Despite his pessimism, Achikzad remarked that the “North Koreans love showing off. They want to prove they can do things no one else can do.”

In that case, perhaps a visit to the United States is not that far fetched at all. Concert performances have been held in North Korea during national tragedies (such as during the death of their leader, Kim Jong Il, as well as during floods and famines), and given North Korea’s propensity to “show off,” a concert tour extending from Atlanta to Oxford would not be that surprising. During our interview, Mr. Achikzad thus added, that “the regime wants to compensate their political instability with their showcases of seemingly flawless performances abroad by offering an illusive reality of who they are. ”

The ongoing performances, tensions over a missile launch, and the latest reports on North Korean defectors all enhance the theatrical nature of a nation desperately searching for food aid and outside support.

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