Why we should support North Korea's cheerleaders

North Korea's decision to send a cheerleading team to the Asian Games in South Korea could signify a cynical charm offensive – or be a cause for celebration, says Adam Taylor

When you think of North Korea, "cheerleaders" may not be the first thing that springs to mind. The Hermit Kingdom is perhaps better known for less savoury things such as gulag-like labour camps and leadership purges. But the news that Pyongyang plans to send a "cheerleading squad" to the South Korean city of Incheon for the forthcoming Asian Games is not just a surprising and weird news story – it may actually be quite an important political sign.

The cheerleading squad's proposed visit was first announced in a report from KCNA, North Korea's official news agency. "It is necessary to put an end to all kinds of calumnies and vituperation that foster misunderstanding and distrust among the fellow countrymen," the report read, according to Reuters.

"We have decided to dispatch a cheerleading squad along with the athletes to the 17th Asian Games in order to improve relationships between the North and the South and to create an atmosphere of national reconciliation."

North Korea sent hundreds of cheerleaders to the South for sporting events in 2002, 2003 and 2005, and the synchronised dancers drew positive responses from South Korean crowds, who reportedly called them an "army of beauties".

However, the dancers have not been sent south in almost a decade, and in 2006 there were reports that some of those cheerleaders had been imprisoned for talking about their experiences abroad upon their return.

So what has changed? Well, the latest announcement comes as Pyongyang appears to be extending an olive branch to Seoul after a period in which relations had been frayed by missile launches and violent rhetoric. The top story on the KCNA website on Monday was a statement that called for "ending confrontation and improving North-South ties," arguing that "South Korean authorities should discard the anachronistic concept of hostility." A number of other stories carried by the news agency pushed a similar sentiment.

It's certainly possible that North Korea is making a cynical charm offensive to be used as leverage, says Adam Cathcart, the editor in chief of the North Korea-watching website Sino-NK, although this does really appear to be a sign that the softer tone North Korea had adopted toward the South at the start of 2014 may be returning. "Any time you have North Koreans agreeing to send an official delegation of their own people to South Korea for any reason, it is a big deal," Cathcart says.

There's also another big event looming that Kim Jong-un, the young leader of North Korea, may want a piece of, Cathcart notes: the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, due to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. North Korea has clearly been promoting its own winter-sports resorts recently, and may even be hoping to co-host some events. "That will be good for his prestige and would feed into this notion he's promoting internally of North Korea's international importance," Cathcart points out.

The move also carries the distinctive fingerprints of Kim, who has shown a fondness for sporting diplomacy (Dennis Rodman's trips being another obvious example). Kim's wife, Ri Sol Ju, was one of the performers sent to South Korea in 2005, and may have had a word in her husband's ear promoting the trip.

All in all, sporting events might have been a rare bright spot in recent North-South Korean relations. And while it may be tempting to chuckle at the idea of North Korean cheerleaders descending on South Korea, it might be something we should support.

© Washington Post

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Franchise Operations Manager - Midlands or North West

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The position will be home based...

Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This independent publishing and...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue