BUSAN, South Korea -- The world viewed former NBA star and lifelong social agitant Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea as little more than spectacle and far short of substance, but “The Worm” might very well redeem himself in the public eye should his bid at Twitter diplomacy work to free American missionary Kenneth Bae, who was recently sentenced to 15 years of hard labor on charges that he was trying to topple the North Korean regime by spreading Christianity.
In a Tweet released this week, Rodman called on his “friend for life” Kim Jong-un to release the imprisoned Bae—who, I would imagine, is referred to in North Korean leadership circles as "the bargaining chip".
The tweet, calling on Bae’s release, came in response to an editorial in last week's Seattle Times that ran with the headline, "Dennis Rodman should ask pal Kim Jong Un to release Kenneth Bae."
The writer, Thanh Tan, says she was serious when she challenged former NBA star Dennis Rodman to get Kenneth Bae out of North Korea, but was shocked when The Worm actually took her up on her suggestion.
After Rodman read the editorial, he sent the tweet plea out to buddy Kim and then let Tan know that he had done so by tweeting her directly.
Kenneth Bae, a resident of of Lynnwood, Washington whose Korean name is Pae Jun-ho, is a Korean-American who organized tours of North Korea, but was allegedly using his tour company to bring Christian missionaries into the isolated state—which views religious proselytizing as a grave offense and, unlike its southern neighbor's controversial HIV testing of foreigners, currently lacks the technology to test visitors for dangerous levels of Christianity that might spread to the general population.
The Evolving "Rodman Way"of Diplomacy?
Perhaps there is a measure of diplomatic nuance in Rodman’s tweet that savvy political minds are missing. Rather than “calling out” the North Korean dictator he “calls on him” using the cordial and friendly nickname “Kim” to “cut Kenneth Bae loose”. Barring a misunderstanding by the young Kim that the “cut him loose” reference means that he was supposed to hang Bae rather than imprison him, perhaps Rodman’s plea might just well work.
North Korea has expressed its willingness to discuss the issue of Bae’s release with a high level emissary. For now we'll just have to wait and see if the Swiss-educated, NBA-lovin’ North Korean leader will be moved by Rodman, who during his trip told Kim, "You have a friend for life." This following a game between a North Korean team and a US team featuring members of the Harlem Globetrotters ended in a diplomatic 110-110 tie.
President Barack Obama told reporters on Tuesday that “the days when North Korea could create a crisis and elicit concessions, those days are over."
Perhaps we could possibly be witnessing the nascent "Dennis Rodman days" taking shape in the art of modern diplomacy—whose predecessor is a long-failed endeavor in dealing with the Kim dynasty.