Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership
During 12 September to 17 September Pyongyang hosted an international and domestic sports competitions. The 2013 Asian Cup and Interclub Weightlifting Tournament (under the auspices of the International Weightlifting Federation) was held at Ryugyo’ng Jong Ju Yong Indoor Stadium from 12 September to 17 September and the DPRK national martial arts competition for the 10 September Prize occurred at the Taekwondo Hall from 12 September to 18 September.
The opening ceremony for the Asian Cup Weightlifting Championships was held at Ryugyo’ng Jong Ju Yong Indoor Stadium in the center of Pyongyang on 12 September. The championships involved about 200 weightlifters hailing from 15 countries in Asia. During the opening ceremony speeches Cha Hui Rim, Chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee, “sent thanks to the International Weightlifting Federation and the Asian Weightlifting Federation for their sincere cooperation for the successful Championship.” Ali Moradi, General Secretary of the Asian Weightlifting Federation, “extended his thanks to Marshal Kim Jong Un (Kim Cho’ng-u’n) as he took a measure for successful Championship in the DPRK, sincerely congratulating the Korean people who significantly celebrated the foundation day of the DPRK” and DPRK Minister of Physical Culture and Sport Ri Jong Mu “noted that the Championship marks an important occasion of exchanging successes and experiences achieved in the wrestling development in the Asian region and deepening the friendship.” During the opening ceremony, the ROK (South Korea) flag was raised and after ROK. According to the ROK Government this was the first time ROK athletes participated in an international competition in the DPRK and the last occasion that ROK athletes competed in the DPRK was an October 2008 exhibition soccer (football) games.
On the third day of competition, the ROK national anthem was played after ROK weightlifter Kim Woo-sik placed first in the 85 kg Interclub junior men’s weight class. On the fourth day of competition, Kim Jong Un attended the senior women’s 63 and 65 kg competition. Prior to the competition’s start he met with senior officials of the AWF and the IWF, telling them that “he was very pleased to see weightlifters from different countries playing in Pyongyang with sports enthusiasm sweeping across the DPRK and public interest in sports steadily increasing in the country” and “appreciated the big efforts made by AWF, IWF and other related bodies for the successful opening of the championship.” In the end, the DPRK came in first in the medal count with 149 medals, 80 of which were gold. China came in second in the medal county with 87 medals, 27 of which were gold and the ROK team placed third in the total medal count with 72 medals. The complete results for the Interclub Junior Championships are available here [PDF] and those for the Asian Cup Junior Championship are available here [PDF].
The DPRK’s 8th National Martial Arts Contest for the 10 September Prize opened at the Taekwondo Hall in Mangyo’ngdae Sports Village in Pyongyang on 12 September. 10 September refers to the date in 1992 when late DPRK President and founder Kim Il Sung (Kim Il-so’ng) inspected the Taekwondo Hall in Mangyo’ngdae. The contest involved over 250 participants from 15 teams and included taekwondo, karate, wushu and Paduk (Go) competitions. Taekwondo sparring, Wushu matches and Paduk contests were held during 13-15 September. On 16 September, men’s and women’s taekwondo pattern and breaking competitions were held, along with Paduk mixed doubles. In the men’s pattern competition, Ham Chung Ryol (national team) came in first, Ra Kyong Hun (of Sunch’o’n Cement Complex Team) came in second, Ri Phil Hun (South Hwanghae Provincial Team) came in third and Hyon Chang Ryul (North P’yo’ngan Provincial Team) came in fourth. In the women’s pattern competition, Sim Il Ok (North Hwanghae Provincial Team) came in first, Kim Pom Mi (national team) came in second, Kim Ji Hyang (national team) came in third and Ri Hyang Mi (North Hwanghae Provincial Team) came in fourth. In the special skills competition, Ri Song Il (North Hwanghae Provincial Team) placed first in the men’s category, and Kim Il Hwa (national team) placed first in the women’s category. In the mixed Paduk doubles, Jang Ri Gyong and Kim Song Won (Pyongyang Team) won Group A, and Kim Kyong Hui and Song Hyon Jin (South Hamgyo’ng Provincial Team) won Group B.
The last day of the contest, 17 September, included demonstration competitions in which competitors “successfully destroyed the targets by front fist, knife-hand, elbow, side kick and turning kick requiring great strength and skills.” Ri Phil Hun (South Hwanghae Provincial Team) came first in the men’s individual demonstrations, and Ri Yon A (Kangwo’n Provincial Team) came first in the women’s individual demonstrations. The South Hamgyo’ng Provincial Team placed first in the men’s team demonstration with the Pyongyang Team placing second and the North Hwanghae Provincial Team placing third. The Kangwo’n Provincial Team placed first in the women’s team demonstrations, with the Pyongyang Team placing second and the South Hwanghae Provincial Team placing third. The 10 September Prize’s closing ceremony was held on 18 September and attended by Kim Kyong Ho (Chairman of the Korean Taekwando Committee) along with “officials concerned, players, coaches, Pyongyang citizens and students.” In the taekwondo standings, the North Hwanghae Provincial Team came in first place, the Kangwo’n Provincial Team came in second and the South Hamgyo’ng Provincial Team placed third. In Paduk, the Pyongyang Team took first, with the South Hamgyo’ng Provincial Team placing second and South P’yo’ngan Provincial Team placing third. In overall team standings, the North Hwanghae Provincial Team came in first, Pyongyang Team came in second and South Hamgyo’ng placed third.
The 10 September Prize contest occurred whilst the DPRK’s International Taekwondo Federation [ITF] negotiates with its ROK counterpart the World Taekwondo Federation [WTF] for cross participation in their competitions. WTF President Choue Chung-won met with ITF President Jang Ung during the International Olympic Committee’s 125th Session in Argentina (held during 7 to 10 September). According to KBS World, Choue said “both sides could sign a memorandum of understanding as early as next month in Russia when the 2013 World Combat Games opens.”
Having concurrently hosted an international and domestic sports competition may be the consummation of the role of the State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, ten months after it was established. Andray Abrahamian writes on the DPRK’s recent emphasis on sports on 38 North:
Winning prestigious sporting events is a major impetus for the “let’s-all-love-sports” campaign. Sporting triumphs may also provide an outlet for nationalist rallying during geopolitically calmer times. One can imagine a situation in the coming years where Pyongyang’s strategic goals will require some sort of détente or at least negotiations with the US and South Korea. Should such a détente occur, North Korea would need to avoid testing any ballistic or nuclear technologies for a period of time in order not to scupper any cooperation that might develop. It would be extremely useful then to have other victories to inspire patriotic pride. Sports, as in any country, can provide this.
Certainly, pointing to sporting victories will be easier than pointing to economic ones if Pyongyang maintains its ambivalence to reform. While the new leadership has demonstrated some interest in economic policy experimentation, the reticence to change that was the hallmark of the Kim Jong Il era is still evident. Both national sporting victories and the urban beautification projects that center around leisure activities—the rollerblading rinks, basketball courts and swimming pools—can be read as a means of buying time, while economic and foreign policy options are explored.
Overall, the sports campaign is also congruous with Kim Jong Un’s brand. As we’ve seen in the past year, the younger Kim has had a distinct niche carved out on his behalf. He clearly projects an approachable, friendly leadership style; one newish song is called “Friendly Comrade Kim Jong Un,” lest there be any doubt. Perhaps most importantly, however, rather than avoid the issue of his age, his public relations team has embraced it, emphasizing his youth, vitality and energy. Promoting sports at a mass-participatory and competitive level has a high degree of cogence with this branding process.
According to an 11 August article in Sankei Shimbun, Kim Jong Un’s “national sports” policy finds DPRK Cabinet ministries and other power organizations sponsoring specific sports events. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for basketball, the Korean Workers’ Party United Front Department is “the main sponsoring organization” for football (soccer) and the Ministry of Foreign Trade is responsible for archery. Taekwondo is now sponsored and managed by the Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports. The State Physical Culture and Sports Guidance Commission, according to Sankei, “is focusing on earning good sums of foreign currency” and the “Commission’s discussions are not limited to only sports policy but also extend to diplomatic and domestic issues, causing some to see the Commission as a core “shadow” regime organization.”