Published by The Atlantic, June 11, 2013
While world leaders bluster, young professionals in Southeast Asia build bridges with their peers from Pyongyang.
The nuclear threats, rocket launches, and violent rhetoric out of North Korean over the past few months have been countered by the international community with everything from diplomatic condemnations, economic sanctions, and displays of military hardware, all with the elusive goal of reducing tensions with the world’s last Stalinist state.
So far, to no avail. “The United States will not stand by while North Korea seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States,” a frustrated U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel complained from the sidelines last weekend at an Asian-Pacific defense summit in Singapore. “No country should conduct ‘business as usual’ with a North Korea that threatens its neighbors.”
Then there is Dennis Rodman-style basketball diplomacy, inspired by the sensationalist American media company VICE. There were some fine photo ops with flamboyant basketball star sharing a courtside table with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and a bump in HBO ratings, but again, no real breakthroughs yet.
Far away from the spotlight, however, a group founded by Singaporean young professionals is taking a much different approach: they are quietly making inroads and building bridges with their peers in North Korea.
The Choson Exchange, a Singapore-registered non-profit, for the past three years has regularly sent volunteers to Pyongyang and Rason, and more recently brought North Koreans to Singapore, seeking to connect young people and institutions in North Korea with workshops in economic policy and international business. Continue reading …