“Sing-Song Diplomacy”

There has been a fair amount of news reports lately about the New York Philharmonic’s Pyongyang concert last Tue. Its significance is compared to that of the exchange of table tennis players between the US and China in 1971. Dubbed as ‘ping-pong diplomacy‘, the exchange is believed to have paved the way for the then President of the US Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1972. Hence, the Washington Post’s headline Sing-Song Diplomacy is not only witty but also hopeful. Indeed, as the article acknowledges, the orchestra’s repertoire wasn’t politically innocent – Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, in particular. And now rumour has it that the next will be Eric Clapton. What numbers is he going to play?

Much less known, there was an e-sports event jointly hosted by the two Koreas last week. To be precise, it was an event held in North Korea by a South Korean online game company (Dragonfly, the developer of a first-person shooter video game Special Force). Other than earning the company publicity, such events might not take us anywhere in the near future. However, as I am from the last generation that was spoon-fed with a lot of anti-communist education in school, the change I smell in the air is quite unbelievable.

Besides, it shouldn’t be surprising, should it, that a vehicle for our idea of cultural diplomacy is an online game among all the things in the world. Did you know that professional e-sports players in South Korea could actually fulfil their 2-year military duties by playing online games as representatives of the Air Force? Only if you have proven records of your competence like Olympic medalists. This is of course a very recent arrangement. Otherwise the officially first ever professional gamer Shin wouldn’t have gone AWOL, caught in an Internet café playing Starcraft, and ended up serving for longer. BTW, why the Air Force? Well, where else would be a better place for someone with such skills profile?

20080228_esports_festival_in_Pyongyang

(The Special Force festival. Photo from here)

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