China’s Soft Power Strategy and the DPRK

Is North Korea, as Joseph Nye once apparently argued, “immune” from soft power and persuasion? In a recent North Korea Review article, Steven Denney and I argue that the DRPK is not. Recent events in Pyongyang involving an American basketball delegation meeting with Kim Jong-un are not necessarily bizarre, nor are they without utility for both the Americans and the North Koreans. Certainly they should force another reappraisal of the role that cultural diplomacy, Track II exchanges, and cultural power plays with respect to our attempts to change or otherwise enter the North Korean thought stream.

If State Department officials in Washington DC struggle to craft an appropriate soft power strategy for Pyongyang, their counterparts in Beijing appear to be way ahead, being armed with decades of “fraternal relations” with North Korea. Or are the Chinese really ahead of the game? What cultural products from Beijing are North Koreans dying—or allowed—to have? Finally, as the PRC Xi Jinping pushes a global propaganda line on “the Chinese dream,” it should be clear that North Korea is far from immune from the pressures and opportunities brought with this wave of rhetoric—and resources.

Read the entire translation and essay, which is a collaboration with the protean German Sinologist Franz Bleeker, at Sino-NK.

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