New York Philharmonic's 'sing song diplomacy' in North Korea
Its performance in Pyongyang Tuesday has spurred intense debate over how to interact with the North.
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The trip, coming 18 months after North Korea's underground nuclear tests and in the middle of renewed diplomatic attempts to defuse the weapons program crisis, is "heavily charged with symbolism," says The Times of London.Skip to next paragraph
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The United States does not maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea and has only sent a handful of envoys to visit the country since the end of the Korean War, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Not since 1950 when the U.S. Army briefly captured Pyongyang during the Korean War have so many Americans descended on the world's most reclusive, anti-US capital. This time, though, the invasion is not military, but musical.
"This journey is a manifestation of the power of music to unite people," [the Philharmonic's executive director Zarin] Mehta said ahead of the trip. "It is our sincere hope that these concerts will aid in the beginning of a new era between the peoples of our nations."
The Los Angeles Times says the US government has given its backing to the visit.
The trip, arranged through private channels, has received the support of the State Department because it will offer a positive image of the United States at a time of negotiations over dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.
"They are alleging that we have a hostile policy and that's why they need nuclear weapons. The presence of the New York Philharmonic argues against that," said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.
The current talk of cultural diplomacy has led other observers to point out other nonpolitical exchanges between the US and seemingly hostile countries that have opened the door to dialogue in the past, says the BBC.
In 1971, China and the US had its famous "ping pong diplomacy". The US table-tennis team were invited to play in China, making them the first American group allowed into the country since the Communist takeover in 1949. This helped pave the way for Richard Nixon's historic trip a year later.
US orchestras have a long history of making ice-breaking trips into politically hostile territory.
"The US wanted to win the Cold War with violins and trumpets," says Jonathan Rosenberg, professor of history at Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.