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Soccer Diplomacy for North Korea
June 22, 2013 - Ray Tsuchiyama
I first published this post (see below) in summer 2010, when North Korea had created a tense situation, and now this spring North Korean leader Kim Il-Un rattles his nuclear saber and worries people around the globe, especially in the neighboring islands of Japan. I am sure like the winds that act up during my Hole 6 at Waiehu Golf Course that Kim Il-Un will do something soon again.
On the other hand, going east just a bit from North Korea, it’s almost unimaginable now in 2013 to contemplate that the People’s Republic of China was “closed” to tourism and visitors until the 1980s and was seen only 30-odd years ago as a hardened totalitarian Marxist-Leninist-Maoist regime with missiles targeting U.S. cities. My point is to replace “North Korea” with “China” in CNN broadcasts, Internet updates and media articles -- and you get the picture of that “Cold War” era, which lasted from 1949 to 1979 – thirty years of enmity between the U.S. and the PRC.
Since the restoration of U.S. – People’s Republic of China full diplomatic relations at the end of the 1970s Americans have visited Shanghai or Beijing or even Hainan Island, a southern resort island dubbed China’s “Hawai’i”; there are touristy English-language magazines for thousands of Americans who live and work in China and carouse in nightlife districts like San Lin Tun in Beijing or Xie Tien Di in Shanghai (yes, I met many Mandarin-speaking Americans in both places, and others who never picked any Chinese as well). And one encounters Chinese tourists armed with credit cards – representatives of the world's second-largest economy -- at Union Square in San Francisco, Times Square in New York City, even at Ala Moana Shopping Center on Oahu.
Also, what sad unfulfilled lives would Americans endure if we did not have Chinese manufactured imports of clothes, furniture, fans, hammers, stereos, laptops, mobile phones, calendars, clocks, even Apple iPads?
Even in the mid-1970s as a college student in Tokyo I would encounter Americans who were living and studying in Japan, but they actually wanted to study “China”, not Japan – but could not obtain any visas to live in China, let alone even doing a three-day tourist tour. In a dramatic change, a couple of years ago my friend’s daughter spent a semester in Beijing, and I know of a Hawai’i friend who has been in Beijing since the early 1990s (his biggest regret is not taking more photos, since the Chinese capital has transformed so much in his years there, including the sight of camels arriving from the Gobi Desert and donkeys carrying rocks from construction sites – of course, think about all the quintessential, homey, small-town Maui scenes now gone forever in less than 15 years when the Maui population was half the current size?).
As late as the early 1980s a person could go to a bridge in the New Territories (Hong Kong) and see “into” the forbidden PRC, a weird place with communes and Mao’s “Little Red Book”. That’s it – you could not cross into China to take photos as a tourist or walk around. And back then Hong Kong money changers would laugh and dismiss red 100-yuan notes adorned with Mao Tse-tung’s face, since PRC Mainland money could not converted into any other currency. For years now I could receive PRC bills from Hong Kong ATMs – what a change! (And the PRC yuan has appreciated quite a bit in the last few years.)
And this change came about in the rapid years following a chance encounter between a young American ping pong player with long hair and an older Chinese ping-pong expert. My Forbes.com blog post above advocates an exchange of soccer matches – since the North Koreans are crazy about soccer (as Americans go nuts just around the time of the Superbowl regarding football). Is this idea too idealistic? Too naïve?
We have to start somewhere.
Of the North Korean populace, even if they are under a horrible, brutal regime, they are a proud and patriotic people whom we cannot dismiss as simple robotic slaves (even under a tyrant like Stalin the Russian people endured years of total war to push back an invading army to restore the independent Russian Motherland).
Again, we have to start somewhere.
As in the 1980s the West uncovered Chinese society and found industrious, normal Chinese people (and exposure to the West changed China in many ways), we will discover that North Koreans are human beings, not exactly like us in culture and world view, but human beings nonetheless.
*I published a couple of blog posts on how China could win a slot for the World Cup – again, the soccer-crazy country of 1.3 billion citizens failed to qualify a soccer team (while little countries would emerge victorious) – and became a sort of China soccer expert, and I do enjoy a good soccer match, yet don’t go buying a soccer channel from my local cable provider (although spouse C. has bought a Tennis channel to root for her special Roger Federer).
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