By Samuel Burke, CNN
When the former British Ambassador to North Korea, John Everard, told acquaintances in that country that he was travelling to the United States, they asked him if he thought he would make it out alive.
Such is the view of America in the Hermit Kingdom.
Following previous missile launches and nuclear tests, Ambassador Everard told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that some North Koreans were genuinely brimming with patriotic pride. But as the days passed after the various tests, some started asking how much money it cost the country. Then they started following up with questions about how much rice costs on the international market. North Korea, after all, is a country that suffers endemic food insecurity.
The nuclear tests are important issues of pride and “national sovereignty” for the North Koreans, Everard said. “They have calculated that having watched what’s happened in Libya and Iraq, that if you have nuclear weapons, you are safe from a military intervention by what they regard as hostile powers – meaning of course primarily the United States. So this is as much as anything, in their eyes, an act of self preservation.”
The nuclear tests are causing concern not only in South Korea, Japan, and the West, but also in China, which has long given its support to North Korea. Everard believes it is a mistake to think that China unconditionally supports North Korea.
There is a fierce argument within China about its policy toward North Korea, he said. Some in China say their support damages the country’s reputation and ability to build bridges to the West; others contend that it is important to hold allies close, as a bulwark against an imperialist blockade.
In Pyongyang, Everard said, North Koreans know are fully aware how poor and backward their country is compared to China and South Korea. Bootlegged South Korean soap operas are now widely available on DVD.
“I’m not suggesting that soap operas of any country are an accurate portrait of reality,” he said, “but at least they gave these people a vision of a completely lifestyle – a life where people were able to live in nice apartments, drive nice cars, and occasionally go out for meals.”
Those are, of course, things most North Koreans can only dream of having.
Everard has just written a book about his experiences in North Korea, called “Only Beautiful, Please.” The title, he says, comes from the experience of a British friend on a visit to North Korea, who had his camera confiscated by a military officer. The officer inspected the camera and then returned it, saying “Only beautiful, please.”
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