Skip to main content

Don't be fooled by Dennis Rodman's trip to North Korea

By Ellen Kim and Carolyn DuMond, Special to CNN
updated 2:49 AM EST, Thu March 7, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ellen Kim, Carolyn DuMond: Dennis Rodman's flashy visit to North Korea is just a big show
  • Kim, DuMond: Bizarre episode overshadows the suffering of North Korean people
  • They say the regime is listed as one of the seven worst violators of human rights in the world
  • Kim, DuMond: The world must not be blinded by the facade, it should help the population

Editor's note: Ellen Kim is assistant director of the office of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Carolyn Marie DuMond is a research associate with the institution.

(CNN) -- Dennis Rodman's flashy visit to North Korea is just a big elaborate show. Don't be fooled by it. The bizarre, seemingly lighthearted episode comes at a time when tensions are again running high and overshadows the pain and suffering faced by ordinary North Koreans.

The regime is continuing its dangerous weapons tests, treating its population terribly and starving countless people.

On Tuesday, North Korea issued new hostile threats, this time to nullify the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953. The regime has made threats in the past, but the intensity of its recent belligerence is unusual.

Ellen Kim
Ellen Kim

North Korea blatantly violated multiple U.N. Security Resolutions with its December 2012 rocket test and its third nuclear test in February. It has made hostile statements toward the United States and South Korea in reaction to the announcement of the new U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed more sanctions on the regime.

Carolyn Marie DuMond
Carolyn Marie DuMond

Just when the situation seemed to be getting worse, the world suddenly saw the young leader Kim Jong Un receiving an American star with great hospitality and enjoying an afternoon of basketball.

What this portrait lacks is the unimaginable level of the suffering of people inside the country who are deprived of basic human rights and food. The regime's track record on human rights is even more ominous than its threats of rockets and nuclear weapons that often provoke the international community.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



North Korea's history is marred by decades of unimaginable famine. In 2011, Freedom House listed the regime as one of the seven worst violators of human rights in the world. It is a place where political prisoners languish in gulags, escaped defectors testify of cannibalism, and famines decimate the population.

The latest reports indicate that the food situation appears to be somewhat improved. In a recent survey conducted by U.N. agencies, the prevalence of chronic malnutrition in children was 27.9% and acute malnutrition was 4%. These are not just numbers and statistics. Children's growth and development is being permanently stunted. The impact of endless hunger and recurrent famine has tremendous long-lasting impact on the North Korean people. It has been estimated that 3.5 million North Koreans died of starvation in the severe famine of the 1990s .

In its November 2012 crop and food security assessment, the U.N. predicted a gap of 207,000 tons of food this year in North Korea. This deficit exists in spite of planned imports and Chinese assistance. In human terms, this translates into a situation where about half the country's most vulnerable population, those who are dependent on the regime's public food distribution system for sustenance, are severely food insecure.

The fact is that, even if North Korea's harvests are improved this season, the public food distribution system is still extremely vulnerable to shocks, such as severe weather. At these levels of malnourishment, dramatic improvements to the system are still needed to ensure people are safe from famine caused by the next flood or severe drought.

The world must be careful not to be blinded by congenial games and friendly speeches coming out of North Korea. It's just a staged show. It doesn't actually solve any of the problems the country is facing. Most importantly, such sideshows are not in the interest of the North Korean people.

Some may contend that Dennis Rodman's visit brought exposure to the regime, which may in turn translate to some benefits, whether it is improved business relations, better communication or more spotlight through other famous stars.

However, the world should not be distracted by the dictatorship's fa├žade and attempts at friendly gestures to lure other countries to start a dialogue or defuse the tensions it has created. Instead, the world needs to focus on the dire situation of the North Korean people and stay committed to finding solutions that will alleviate their hunger and improve their living situations.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ellen Kim and Carolyn DuMond.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT