If the events of Saturday, October 9th in Pyongyang are any indication, 27-year-old leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un is planning on getting jiggy with the notion of a closed off media state. Around the same time that the cherubic youngest son was being spotted in his first public appearance at a performance by the crack Arirang Games troupe, all media hell was breaking loose nearby at the Hotel Koryo.
Al Jazeera correspondent Melissa Chan got things started with a tweet that said it all: “So this is a first. Twitter is blocked in China — but not North Korea.” Shortly thereafter, she was Skyping a live report back to her Middle Eastern network, marveling at the fact that she could also access Facebook.
Chan was not alone. Joining her on this last-minute unprecedented media junket from Beijing to Pyongyang Saturday, which started with a mad flurry of visa stamping on Friday and led to the need for a second plane today, were some of the western media’s other high-profile North Korea watchers. NPR correspondent Louisa Lim encountered a befuddled rep at the airport, while Tom Van de Weghe, Tania Branigan and Dan Chung all tried to make sense of the fact that they were being allowed to tweet and share pictures from the showplace capital.
Tomorrow is the 65th anniversary of the founding of North Korea‘s Worker’s Party, with perhaps the biggest parade ever put on in Pyongyang set to unfold. And like a senior citizen suddenly embracing the wonders of the World Wide Web, the Hermit Kingdom – at least for one glorious, wonky weekend – is jumping into the fray, wrinkled feet first. It even appears to have taken the opportunity of this second big party to launch its first official website, a non-Japan hosted version of Korean Central News Agency news.
Does this mean Kim Jong-il will soon be sitting down poolside at one of his villas with the similarly exiting Larry King? Or that Kim Jong-un will declare Jennifer Grey to be his personal favorite on the current edition of Dancing with the Stars? Probably not. In fact, the sudden media blitz, which began with a North Korean official earlier in the week confirming that Kim Jong-un is the new grey, suggests more than anything that pops must really be ill.
Still, for those of us who like to keep tabs on the topsy-turvy half of the Korean Peninsula, today is an entirely unexpected watershed. In the space of a few weeks, we have gone from not even being sure Kim Jong-un would show up at the Sptember 28th meeting of the Worker’s Party to reading live tweets from a western media corps.
Evidently, someone in North Korea – perhaps even Kim Jong-un himself – has decided that it is finally time to connect with the world in a way that does not involve a former U.S. President.