A few Ping-Pong balls broke the Cold War ice around China a generation ago, following Richard Nixon’s stunning trip to Beijing (when it was still called Peiping), and soon the United States and China were on their way to normal diplomatic relations.
China even toned down its colorful bellicose rhetoric about what it could do to America and the West, probably putting a few of Chairman Mao’s best writers out of business. Kim Jong-un’s writers learned a lot about theatrical rhetoric from the Chairman’s writing shop.
This time the leader of an all-female pop group may be the designated Ping-Pong ball. Hyon Song Wol, the most celebrated pop star in North Korea, at least among the ladies, has been part of the North Korean delegation in the Panmunjom talks that produced a North-South agreement to send a North Korean team of entertainers to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
There’s no objection to female objectification in North Korea, and Miss Hyon’s all-girl group, called the Moranbong Band, lets it all hang out in tiny skirts and tight tops when they sing odes to the really hot, hot Kim Jong-un and his family of hotties. Their tours, you might not be surprised to learn, break records of enthusiasm and rapture throughout North Korea.
The band’s performances are carefully scheduled in the wake of missile launches, political directives and, of course, Mr. Kim himself, who is followed by swoons and applause wherever he goes. It’s sometimes hard to know whether the rapturous applause is for the band’s scorching guitar solos and drum riffs or Mr. Kim. (The betting here is that the applause is first for Rocket Man.)
The Trump administration has encouraged the talks between North and South, and so far his administration has not publicly objected to Pyongyang’s participation in the Olympic games, but government spokesmen warn that the government can’t be trusted.
“This is not the first time that North Korean and South Korean athletes have marched together,” a spokesman tells CNN News. “Let’s hope that the experience gives the North Korean athletes a small taste of freedom, and it rubs off. North Korean propaganda is in a category all its own, and it’s not surprising that North Korea is sending more cheerleaders and musicians than athletes.”
Indeed, there will no doubt be more “security minders,” as the goons are called, than everyone else combined. They won’t be there to protect and serve, but to watch for signs that someone is about to go over the hill to the other side.
President Trump and his administration have hurled fewer usual insults and sometimes soothing words at Pyongyang in recent days, with an absence of incoming insults, hinting at a thaw in the relationship. Rocket Man has apparently given his writers a day or two of rest. Nobody can know for sure whether this is a cease-fire with meaning, or merely a lull in the war between the words. What it doesn’t mean, Seoul spokesmen are eager to tell reporters at the North-South talks, is that South Korea is losing heart in the U.S.-led campaign to tighten global sanctions on North Korea to force it to abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson conferred with leaders of a dozen allied nations in Vancouver earlier this week to buck up their spirits for drawing sanctions tighter, and declined to say whether President Trump had talked lately with the South Korean president.
The Rocket Man is dreaming big about his show-biz campaign at the Winter Olympics. North Korea was not originally a party to the winter games, not being part of the Olympics, but he got agreement with the hosts to send not only his favorite pop star, but a 140-piece woodwind and brass orchestra to play concert dates in both Seoul and at the Olympic city.
But tiny skirts and tight tops are likely to make a bigger splash than brass and woodwinds, even supplemented by electric guitars as in performances in Pyongyang. Hyon Song Wol, leader of her Moranbong Band, is a bit of a mystery woman. She is thought to be in her late 30’s and may, or may not, have been squired by Rocket Man through the Pyongyang society pages.
Nightlife in beautiful downtown Pyongyang does not actually have a lot of sparkle, unless your taste runs to statuary of the hot, hot Kim family, and intelligence sources in Seoul told The Wall Street Journal they couldn’t confirm particulars of Miss Hyon’s personal life, or whether it included Rocket Man.
But something has to break the ice, and sometimes bouncing balls and skimpy skirts can do unexpected things.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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