It isn’t clear why Dennis Rodman is headed to the secretive country of North Korea, but he’s one of the few Americans able to have a face-to-face with North Korea’s Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-Un. Dennis Rodman was spotted at Beijing International Airport today, where he was headed to Pyongyang, North Korea, but he declined to comment when spoken to. On the other hand, when two North Korean officials – who declined to be identified – were asked, they confirmed that he would be arriving to their country on Tuesday, June 13, 2017.
Rodman’s visit to North Korea comes at a time when relations between Pyongyang and Washington are extremely strained. Not only is there the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles shadowing almost all of Southeast Asia, the reclusive country is currently detaining four American citizens on suspicion of “hostile acts” against the regime. The latest citizen detained was Kim Hak-song, who was detained on May 7, 2017. The other three citizens being held are Tony Kim, Otto Warmbler, and Kim Dong Chul. Kim is a professor, Warmbler was a University of Virginia student who removed a political sign and was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, and Kim Dong Chul is serving 10 years on espionage charges.
Rodman’s Previous Visits
Dennis Rodman has visited North Korea four times in the past. Three of his visits occurred in the span of one year from 2013 to 2014.The last visit came as part of a celebration of Kim Jong-Un’s birthday in January of 2014. Rodman brought over a group of former NBA players and held an exhibition game as a birthday present for the North Korean dictator. Rodman was also filmed singing “Happy Birthday” to Kim Jong-Un.
After his most recent visit, Rodman sat down with CNN to talk about why he thought that visiting North Korea was good for US-North Korea relations. According to him, the “basketball diplomacy” project was good for the world. The trip generated a lot of negative press for Rodman and his visit; not for what he did, but for what he didn’t say.
At the time of his visit, an American citizen, Kenneth Bae, was being held by North Korea on charges that he had planned an operation to topple North Korea’s government with religious activities. Bae had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. The US government was working with North Korea, trying to secure a release for Bae, yet when Rodman had the opportunity to speak to Kim Jong-Un, he didn’t say anything about the Korean-American. When asked about it, Rodman even went so far as to imply that Bae had actually done something wrong.
“Do you understand what he did in this country [North Korea]? No, no,no, you tell me, you tell me. Why is he held captive here in this country, why?”
This Visit Links To The Trump Administration
United States officials are quick to point out that Rodman’s visit to North Korea is in no way official and he is acting on his own. However, Rodman has a close relationship with President Trump, stretching back to when he appeared on Trump’s reality television show Celebrity Apprentice in 2009 and 2013. Trump has often spoken highly of Dennis Rodman and is on record of being in favor of Rodman’s trips to Pyongyang, especially in 2013.
“You look at the world, the world is blowing up around us. Maybe Dennis is a lot better than what we have. It’s not an act. But he’s a much different guy and this year on the Apprentice — it’s amazing how sharp and smart. Dennis is not a stupid guy. He’s smart in many ways; he’s very street-wise.”
Rodman’s access to Kim Jong-Un because of the dictator’s love of basketball could be a method of back-room diplomacy that would allow the Trump administration to ferret out exactly what Pyongyang wants. It wouldn’t be the first time that Rodman has come back from North Korea with a message from Kim Jong-Un. As it is, with 16 ballistic missile launches this year, North Korea is inching closer to perfecting an ICBM that would threaten millions of lives in the United States. With the two countries continuing to square off with the fate of Southeast Asia in the balance, as Lt. General H.R. McMasters has been quoted as saying, “All options are on the table.”
[Featured Image by Kim Kwang Hyon/AP Images]