There used to be a lot of talk, during the long years of the Cold War, about how U.S. “soft power” attractiveness managed in many ways to outshine and outweigh the communist side’s prowess in the fields of rocketry, missiles and tanks. Justifiable indeed was America’s studied efforts to “put its best feet forward” at this time by regaling the populations of communist bloc countries with the best in U.S. popular and high culture. These “people-to-people” performances certainly did their thing in helping the Western world to win the Cold War.
Now, in a reversal, we’re being treated to a bravura performance in the area of soft power by the Democratic Republic of Korea, or North Korea. Audiences in South Korea have beheld a dance group, a bunch of cheerleaders and even the younger sister of Kim Jong-Un in a huge example of North Korea “putting its best feet forward.” This appears to have scared Seoul’s U.S. and Japanese patrons. Official Washington, D.C., and Tokyo cautioned South Korea not to be taken in by Pyongyang’s “charm offensive.”
Much talk is being tossed around about Seoul’s “appeasement” and “naiveté.” When the North’s “Sister Number One” placed a blue folder on South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s desk, there was much speculating about what sort of message it contained from the North’s absolute ruler. It turns out that Sister Number One invited Moon to visit the North “at a time of his choosing.”
North Korea, it’s clear, knows a thing or two about soft power public relations. Kim Jong-Un’s sister truly did “steal the show” at the PyeongChang Olympics — she, plus the so-called “Army of Beauties” that Kim Jong-Un sent south of the 38th Parallel.
Underestimate Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda and PR skills? That will probably happen a lot less frequently as we go forward.
Frank W. Goheen