Wrong film on DPRK at the wrong time

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

The Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea has de­nied that it is re­spon­si­ble for the crip­pling cy­ber­at­tack on Sony Pic­tures En­ter­tain­ment which made avail­able un­re­leased Sony movies on il­le­gal file­shar­ing web­sites and re­sulted in the leak of sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion on about 47,000 in­di­vid­u­als. But many still be­lieve Py­ongyang or­ches­trated the at­tack in an ap­par­ent re­tort to the Sony movie, The In­ter­view, which re­volves around an at­tempt on the life of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un and is ex­pected to hit the screens in­North Amer­ica later this month.

An uniden­ti­fied spokesman for the DPRK’s Na­tional De­fense Com­mis­sion has been quoted by news agen­cies in Seoul as say­ing that the cy­ber­at­tack “might be a right­eous deed by the sup­port­ers and sym­pa­thiz­ers” of Py­ongyang.

In June, the DPRK de­nounced the film, say­ing it was in­sult to the coun­try’s supreme lead­er­ship. In­deed, the film shows lit­tle re­spect to the DPRK. With a comedic plot to as­sas­si­nate the DPRK leader and the use of his real name, The In­ter­view chal­lenges Kim’s lead­er­ship, which has been ac­cepted by peo­ple of the DPRK as a whole.

The film’s pro­duc­ers and theMo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, which de­vises the pro­duc­tion code for Amer­i­can movies, are aware of The In­ter­view’s theme, yet both seem to have turned a blind eye to its con­tro­ver­sial con­tent. Their se­lec­tive “ig­no­rance” is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of howUS so­ci­ety views the DPRK.

Wash­ing­ton did hope to es­tab­lish diplo­matic con­tact with Py­ongyang when Kim as­sumed of­fice three years ago. In a bi­lat­eral agree­ment reached on Feb 29, 2012, the United States promised to pro­vide food as­sis­tance to the DPRK if it al­lowed In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency in­spec­tors to re­turn to the coun­try. But Kim’s pur­suit of po­lit­i­cal brinkman­ship, in­clud­ing the third nu­clear test in 2013, thwarted this ini­tia­tive and gaveWash­ing­ton the im­pres­sion that he was a rash and in­sin­cere young leader.

Ad­mit­tedly, Kim’s for­eign pol­icy, in­clud­ing mak­ing more nu­clear threats, is far from flaw­less. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing China, has al­ready im­posed sanc­tions on the DPRK for its wrongdoings. But one of the un­spo­ken diplo­matic rules of bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ships is that no group or coun­try should de­mo­nize a coun­try’s leader like The In­ter­view does.

Like many new­po­lit­i­cal lead­ers across the world, Kim is still learn­ing how to ful­fill his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to­ward his coun­try, which have be­come even more dif­fi­cult be­cause of the DPRK’s con­tin­u­ing iso­la­tion from the rest of the world and slug­gish econ­omy. Kim has been work­ing hard to por­tray the DPRK as a more open and con­fi­dent coun­try. Send­ing Choe Ry­ong-hae, sec­re­tary to the Cen­tral Com­mit­tee of the rul­ing Work­ers’ Party of Korea, as spe­cial en­voy to Rus­sia inNovem­ber is one ex­am­ple of his ef­forts.

More im­por­tantly, Py­ongyang is ready for the restart of the Six-Party Talks with­out any pre-con­di­tion, Rus­sian For­eignMin­is­ter Sergei Lavrov said after meet­ing with Choe on Nov 20. And the Six-Party Talks is the only plat­form that can help re­solve the Korean Penin­sula nu­clear is­sue.

In the back­ground of such pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments, the stereo­type pre­sented by the Sony film sticks out like a sore thumb. In­stead of help­ing re­store peace on the Penin­sula, it will only widen the rift be­tween Py­ongyang andWash­ing­ton. Worse, it could force the DPRK leader to with­drawfrom his com­mit­ments. And an angry DPRK will not be in the in­ter­est of any coun­try.

The need, there­fore, is to main­tain the nec­es­sary pres­sure on the DPRK to keep it on the track to de­nu­cle­ariza­tion. The In­ter­view is con­trary to this need.

Although Amer­i­can movies are known for their com­mer­cial fea­tures, they should be sen­si­tive to po­lit­i­cal con­cerns. A cou­ple of im­por­tant ques­tions have to be an­swered be­fore The In­ter­view is re­leased: Is this re­ally a good time to screen this movie? If it is, could Kim’s name be re­placed by any other name and could the ac­tion be shifted from the DPRK to some fic­ti­tious place? Let us not for­get, proper diplo­matic moves are re­quired to keep Wash­ing­ton-Py­ongyang ties and the Korean Penin­sula sit­u­a­tion from wors­en­ing. The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Na­tional In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy, Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences.


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