Soft Power in North Korea's Charm Offensive

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Nye associates power with the ability to sway the behavior of others to achieve a specific outcome. According to Nye, there are three ways of influencing the behavior of others; “you can coerce them with threats, induce them with payments or you can attract or co-opt them to want what you want[1].” The first two are referred to as hard power since they involve the use of military power and economic power respectively. The third is known as soft power. Soft power is described as the ability to influence others to get what an individual wants via attraction instead of coercion or payment. Nye further explains soft power by giving a practical example in the world’s politics. According to him, “a country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries want to follow it, admiring its values, emulate its example, and aspire to its level of prosperity and openness[2].” The paper expounds on the use of soft power by North Korea in 2018’s Winter Olympics currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea. In addressing this, the paper will also elaborate the effectiveness of both soft power actions by the North and the charm offensive of Kim Jung Un.

            President Kim Jong-Un has been renowned for many years as an aggressive leader. In fact, it is argued that he is not only bold but also uncompromising when compared with his predecessors. Some of the reasons that influence people to perceive him this way include his dictatorial leadership in addition to his expertise in nuclear brinksmanship. Globally, Kim Jong-Un is renowned as a leader that hates negotiations until he perfects nuclear missiles that could destroy the United States. Kim has never shown any interest in resolving issues through diplomacy. He believes the military power can address all issues relating to conflicts between his state and other states. His shift from using hard power to soft power recently leaves a lot of question marks and goes against the constructionist model as experiences about his conflict resolution mechanisms are different.

            North Korea and South Korea have been in conflict for many years. The differences between the two nations have caused loss of many lives besides crippling the economy of both countries. The change of heart by Kim Jong-Un could be well-intentioned. However, the timing is questionable. Kim surprised the world including the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-In, and the President of the United States, Donald Trump when he expressed the willingness of “North Korea to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.[3]” According to Trump, “the Rocketman” considered participating in the current Olympics following the massive fleeing of North Korea’s soldiers to South Korea[4]. The allegation by Trump could be right because Kim needs military support to fight the US. Kim employed Nye’s concept of soft power to win the trust of South Korea. He knew what South Korea needs, ‘peaceful relationship between the two states,’ and agreed to have a diplomatic talk with her. Based on Trump’s argument, one can conclude that the diplomatic talks, in this case, are aimed at co-opting South Korea. As it was noted before, Kim is a leader that cannot welcome negotiations until he has invented a nuclear missile that can destroy the US. Thus, the participation of North Korea in 2018 Olympics is aimed at getting all kinds of support from South Korea to fight the US.

            The statements from North Korea about the need for negotiations between her and South Korea, her willingness to participate in the current Olympics and the recent trip of Kim’s sister to South Korea presents Kim’s charm offensive. According to Japan through its Chief Cabinet Secretary, the dialogue between Kim and Pyongyang was for the dialogue’s sake[5]. In other words, Japan believes that dialogue between the two sister states is meaningless since its objective is offensive. Similarly, Japan argues that the claim by Kim that reconciliation and dialogue between North and South Korea are crucial was aimed at fooling Tokyo. In addition to this, Japan’s Defense Minister, Mr. Itsunori Onodera, stated that “If North Korea is trying to use Olympics for political purposes and ease international sanctions against itself, we must not be swayed” (Osaki 2018). From the statements made Japan leaders, one can note that the statements from North Korea about negotiations and Olympics are intended to soften the hearts of the international community to lift international suctions on North Korea. Equally, North Korea wants to paint a different picture of itself to the world at a time when there is a lot of interest owing to the Olympics.

            Although many international leaders argue that they will not fall for a North Korean charm offensive, the trip of Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo-Jong, seems to bear some fruits. Yo-Jong is one of the most trusted aides by President Kim. His decision to send her to South Korea was explicitly designed to augment a charm offensive. Kim knew by sending his sister to South Korea the world would talk and change their perception about North Korea. Before her visit to South Korea, “North Korea was regarded as nothing but a menace, characterized by missile tests.[6]” Within a short period, Kim Yo-Jong managed to paint her country in South Korea differently with not only friendly smiles but also messages of reconciliation. She also managed to deliver the unexpected invitation by her brother to President Moon. According to Yo-Jong, the sooner the two leaders, Kim and Moon, meet the better for the relationship between the North and South. Considering the reaction of South Korea, one can conclude that Kim’s plan succeeded. He managed to convince President Moon that his intentions were excellent and the two nations can come to the table and solve their differences.

            Kim Jung Un’s charm offensive is working but at a slow pace. As it was argued before, the visit of Kim’s sister to South Korea influenced many people to reconsider their thoughts about North Korea. The aggressive country was painted as a peace-loving country by Yo-Jong. With the kind of reception she received in South Korea, one can conclude that Kim can receive support from South Korea at a time of need. Regarding the international sanctions, Kim’s charm offensive seems futile. In fact, Japan seems not to relent to that charm offensive. It argues that negotiations between South and North are not enough to change its decision about sanctions on North Korea. Similarly, the US has indicated that all steps taken by Kim are ill-intended. Through its vice president, the US emphasized on putting more aggressive economic sanctions on North Korea shortly despite her call for negotiations with South Korea[7]. Although Japan and the US have strong stands about their economic sanctions on North Korea, it is evident that they all welcome the negotiations between the two sister states. From their positive reactions to the talk between the two states, President Kim’s charm offensive is working. Sooner than later North Korea “may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries will fall into its trap[8].” The continuous portrayal of a friendly behavior will attract the support of other nations to North Korea. 

            In summary, Nye’s concept of soft power states that a country can achieve what it wants in world politics by attracting or co-opting other countries. President Kim Jung-Un is currently employing this power to influence other nations to support North Korea. In addition to soft power, Kim uses charm offensive to coerce other nations to develop a different picture of North Korea. His charm offensive has been met by different reactions from countries around the globe. South Korea appears to agree with Kim’s call for dialogue and participation in the 2018 Olympics. Japan and the U.S. on the hand are warning nations from falling for the North Korean charm offensive. According to them, the negotiations and participation of North Korea in the current Olympics is ill-intended since North Korea is on the advantage side. The recent trip of Kim’s sister to South Korea also influenced many nations to develop a different picture of North Korea. Initially, North Korea was described as a country full of menace. However, Yo-Jong’s trip made many nations to change this perception. Kim’s charm is working positively though at a slow pace. However, there is high possibility for him realizing his goals as the President of North Korea.    

Reference List

George, Steve and Lee, Taehoon. “South Korean Leader Welcomes North Korean Olympic          Participation.” CNN. January 2, 2018. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/02/asia/moon-        welcomes-north-korean-olympic-participation-intl/index.html

Osaki, Tomohiro. “Japan Says it Won’t Fall for North Korean ‘Charm Offensive’ Amid Détente            with U.S. and South.” The Japan Times. Feb 13, 2018.             https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/02/13/national/politics-diplomacy/japan-says-           wont-fall-north-korean-charm-offensive-amid-detente-u-s-south/#.WoPoVbOYPIW

Sang-Hun, Choe. “Kim Jon-un Welcomes Sister Home From Winter Olympics ‘Charm             Offensive’ with Military Band and Humour Guard.” Independent. February 13, 2018.   http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/north-korea-latest-kim-jong-un-sister-  kim-yo-jong-winter-olympics-diplomatic-mission-welcome-home-a8207841.html

Seib, William. Toward a New Public Diplomacy: Redirecting U.S. Foreign Policy. New York:   Springer. 2009.

Tracy, Abigail. “Did North Korea’s “Charm Offensive” Work on MikePence?” Vanity Fair      Magazine. February 12, 2018. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/02/mike-pence- north-korea

 

[1]

William Seib, Toward a New Public Diplomacy: Redirecting U.S. Foreign Policy, New York:      Springer, 2009.

[2]

William Seib, Toward a New Public Diplomacy: Redirecting U.S. Foreign Policy, New York:      Springer, 2009.

[3]Steve George and Taehoon Lee, “South Korean Leader Welcomes North Korean Olympic          Participation,” CNN, January 2, 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/02/asia/moon-        welcomes-north-korean-olympic-participation-intl/index.html

[4]

Steve George and Taehoon Lee, “South Korean Leader Welcomes North Korean Olympic          Participation,” CNN, January 2, 2018, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/02/asia/moon-        welcomes-north-korean-olympic-participation-intl/index.html

[5]Tomohiro Osaki, “Japan Says it Won’t Fall for North Korean ‘Charm Offensive’ Amid Détente            with U.S. and South,” The Japan Times, Feb 13, 2018,             https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/02/13/national/politics-diplomacy/japan-says-           wont-fall-north-korean-charm-offensive-amid-detente-u-s-south/#.WoPoVbOYPIW  

[6]Choe Sang-Hun, “Kim Jon-un Welcomes Sister Home From Winter Olympics ‘Charm             Offensive’ with Military Band and Humour Guard,” Independent, February 13, 2018,   http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/north-korea-latest-kim-jong-un-sister-  kim-yo-jong-winter-olympics-diplomatic-mission-welcome-home-a8207841.html

[7]Abigail Tracy, “Did North Korea’s “Charm Offensive” Work on MikePence?” Vanity Fair      Magazine, February 12, 2018, https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/02/mike-pence- north-korea

[8]William Seib, Toward a New Public Diplomacy: Redirecting U.S. Foreign Policy, New York:      Springer, 2009.

August 01, 2023
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