The Pyongyang Olympics

The Western media discover the hidden charms of North Korea.


Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, Feb. 9.
Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, Feb. 9. PHOTO: YONHAP/REUTERS

The winter Olympics are under way in South Korea, and the big winner is . . . North Korea. Thanks to an appeasing government in Seoul and a gullible Western media, the prison state in Pyongyang is getting a public-relations makeover worthy of the 1936 summer games in Berlin.

“ Kim Jong Un’s sister is stealing the show at the Winter Olympics,” said an actual headline on CNN Saturday. The story was an encomium to the heretofore undetected charms of North Korea’s first sister, who is the North’s lead emissary to the games.

“With a smile, a handshake and a warm message in South Korea’s presidential guest book, Kim Yo Jong has struck a chord with the public just one day into the PyeongChang Games,” said the story. “Seen by some as her brother’s answer to American first daughter Ivanka Trump, Kim, 30, is not only a powerful member of Kim Jong Un’s kitchen cabinet but also a foil to the perception of North Korea as antiquated and militaristic.”

Ah, the North Korean Ivanka. What’s she wearing—Armani Privé? How does she keep that youthful, glowing complexion on a starvation diet? 

The Western media also went ga-ga for the North Korean cheerleaders waving flags in sync at a hockey game. A tweet from @NBCOlympics showed a video of the red-dressed Reds with the caption, “this is so satisfying to watch.” Yes, and if any of them gets out of line, her family could be sent for an extended stay at one of the exquisitely outfitted villas at a work camp, perhaps with a lovely mountain view.

But back to the charming Kim Yo Jong, whose smile was contrasted with the white male visage of Vice President Mike Pence, who led the U.S. delegation. Philip Bump, a Washington Post reporter, tweeted a photo with Ms. Kim looking from behind at Mr. Pence with the caption, “Kim Jong Un’s sister with deadly side-eye at Pence.” You go, girl.

Mr. Bump has since pulled the tweet, but his willingness to favorably contrast a member of a despotic family clan with an American Vice President was typical of the weekend’s Olympics coverage.

For the record, Ms. Kim’s brother ordered the murder of their half-brother last year using the VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur airport. He then held Malaysian diplomats hostage until Malaysia turned over Pyongyang’s agents who plotted the assassination. In 2013 he killed his uncle with antiaircraft fire.

The media’s dictatorship indulgence might not matter if it didn’t seem to be having diplomatic consequences for the U.S.-South Korean alliance. South Korean President Moon Jae-in treated Ms. Kim like a visiting princess, and she invited him to visit Pyongyang, which the global press corps treated as a genuine breakthrough for peace.

Never mind that Pyongyang staged a military parade the day before the Olympics opened, showcasing a new ballistic missile. Or that the North still insists it will never negotiate over nuclear weapons or the missiles it now launches over Japan.

Mr. Moon deserves much of the blame for this week’s charade. He set the tone by inviting Ms. Kim and North Korean head of state Kim Yong Nam to sit with him at the opening ceremony. He then invited them to the presidential mansion the following day, opening the door to the summit invitation.

Mr. Moon didn’t immediately accept. But the offer is an attempt to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea and secure concessions from Mr. Moon, who suspended sanctions and paid the North’s expenses to secure its participation in the Olympics. The invitation opens the door for more propaganda blaming the U.S. for tensions created by the Kims.

The one leader who behaved with dignity this weekend is Mr. Pence. He was put in the awkward position of following what has been the joint U.S.-South Korean policy that the North must stop its nuclear program before a rapprochement can happen. 

While Mr. Moon was toasting Ms. Kim, Mr. Pence met with North Korean defectors. But that meeting received less coverage than North Korea’s cheerleading squad. Mr. Pence stood with the victims of the Kim regime, even as the North pressures Mr. Moon to return defectors to almost certain death.

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