Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Koryo Group



  Since 1993 Koryo Group has specialised in tourism and cultural exchanges with North Korea. We believe cultural exchanges and informal diplomacy will have a significant impact in breaking down cultural barriers as they have in PR China. We believe the impact on the North Korean government and people of North Korea has been noteworthy.

  We have witnessed firsthand the impact of cultural exchanges and from experience have seen it is a significant tool to engage with North Korea on a political and moral level that is currently underutilised.

  We accept that the North Korean Government may use cultural exchanges as propaganda however the North Korean public are very much aware of the lack of information from the outside and that they are restricted in receiving it—there is a thirst for new information. Whilst engagement with North Korea is very strictly controlled the lack of anything new in the country has given the Koreans an increased interest in the West. Cultural exchanges have a massive impact in a country where there is so little "new" information leeching in from the outside world.

  As in ping pong diplomacy between the US and PR China in the 1970's, sports and cultural exchanges provide an excuse for building relations and a stronger platform for human rights issues to be addressed.

  The British Embassy in Pyongyang has supported successful projects such as English language courses and various cultural exchanges. We have worked with them on a number of events, most notably on our two award winning BBC documentaries, the return of the 1966 North Korean team to UK and bringing the film "Bend it Like Beckham" to Pyongyang) but we believe that the British Government is not sufficiently exploiting the asset of it's Embassy in Pyongyang to help promote change within North Korea.

  Within this tightly controlled society there are individual Koreans who are willing to push at the edges—and they are very happy to work on cultural projects. We are in a very lucky position to have Korean friends who, whilst they have enormous constraints on what they can and cannot do, are prepared to push the limits. We believe that it is especially younger people who the British Government should be doing more to target, and it is the Korean's love of football where the greatest impact would be.

  Many of our projects are limited by the lack of finance and more importantly support. With Government approval and involvement the private sector would be much more willing to sponsors projects which would show the Korean people just what is happening in the world outside it's borders.

  We are not necessarily asking for Government funding, but the current Government policy of focussing almost exclusively on criticism at the expense of a balance of criticism and engagement is hampering the efforts of those, such as us, who see the best way forward as working for change through engagement.


  North Korea has an isolationist policy and we believe that, as part of a balance policy of "stick and carrot" towards North Korea, Britain should promote cultural exchanges as a way of helping to break this isolation. Football is the ideal medium for this, to exploit existing sporting links between Britain and North Korea. It is the game the North Koreans love and it captures their imagination. Their womens national team reached the last World Cup in USA and their mens team perform well in the Asian championships. Even small scale football exchanges would expose hundreds, possible tens of thousands, of ordinary Koreans to foreigners and stimulate further interest in the outside world. In combination with projects such as English Language courses the impact would be to spread new ideas within the country.


We would very much like to develop football changes with North Korea and UK as this is where any cultural exchange would have the biggest impact:

    —  Korea is a country where the West is an abstract. Once you are in North Korea the world you knew does not exist. 9/11 and the "end" of the Iraq war were not reported by the official media until a week after the events. Football brings the outside world into their country. North Korea has one television chanel during the week and an additional weekend television programme which occasionally shows international football. There is a thirst in North Korea for news of international football—even Beckham is known in North Korea.

    —  In 1966 a cultural bridge was made between DPRK and the west via the medium of football. If ping pong politics was used in China diplomacy then football offers the greatest potential of success—the Koreans love football and their teams are of a high standard (in particular their women's teams who participated in the last World Cup in USA).

    —  Football exchanges involves interaction, understanding and tolerance.

    —  On the two occasions that the 1966 North Korean World Cup team came to England they were feted as heroes. The major impact of this friendship was in North Korea where the public saw their heroes supported by the English fans and therefore changed many preconceptions that they had of the English.

    —  The biggest impact of our exchanges has been in DPRK—we had 100% ratings of the film "The Game of Their Lives" and it portrayed the British public as supporting their players.

    —  In 2004 the North Korean World Cup team of 1966 were invited by the British Embassy in North Korea to attend the Queen's birthday reception.

    —  The 1966 team refereed a match between the North Korean Foreign ministry and Western Embassy/Aid organisations team. This football match provided an informal and friendly opportunity for interaction.

    —  Because of a game of football we have been able to make two award winning films and two BBC radio programmes on music and travel which have given a greater insight into North Korea.

    —  The ROK Ambassador to UK shared a formal reception with the North Korean football team of 1966. This was the first time ROK and DPRK government officials had shared a friendship event. The premier of the film in China was at the Italian Embassy and the ROK and DPRK first secretaries attended and spoke for the first time to each other.

    —  The love of football is a common bond on the Korean peninsula. Inter-Korea matches have been played over the years and the success of the South Korea team in the last World Cup that had a big impact; North Korean's supported the success of the South.


    —  Specialists in travel to North Korea and have visited the country almost every month since 1993. We have been appointed as specialist advisor to the Korea International Travel Company (DPRK Government body) and we take in over 70% of all Western tourists to the country. Consulted for the Lonely Planet and Bradt Travel Guide which for the first time open the country to the wider world.

    —  Co Producer of "A State of Mind", (documentary in production) on the US defectors who left South Korea to North Korea in the 1960's, one of whom still lives in Pyongyang (2005-current).

    —  Produced the award winning documentary "A State of Mind" the first ever access into family life in Pyongyang and the Mass Games (in conjunction with BBC, ARTE and WNET). Screened in both North and South Korea. Premiered in the USA at Tribeca Film Festival, nominated for the Norwegian Peace Film Award and various international awards.

    —  Produced the documentary film "The Game of Their Lives" (the story of the North Korean World Cup team of 1966) in conjunction with VeryMuchSo Productions and BBC. Screened in both North and South Korea. Amongst other international awards "The Game of Their Lives" won the Royal Television Society award for best sports documentary, received a nomination for Best Historical Documentary at the Grierson Awards, a Best Documentary at the British Independent Film Awards, first prize at the Seville Film Festival and awards at the Seattle International Film Festival.

    —  Conceived and arranged for the return of the DPRK 1966 World Cup team to UK (North Korea's biggest cultural event with Britain), October 2002. Over 100,000 British Football fans welcomed the players "home" at with standing ovations at Everton and Middlesbrough Football clubs.

    —  BBC Radio 3—Arranged the first music programme on North Korea with Andy Kershaw, "Kershaw in North Korea", (Sony nomination 2003).

    —  BBC Radio 4—Profiled in two part radio travelogue following Nicholas Bonner on tour in North Korea, North Korea Travel, (Sony nominated for 2006).

    —  Arranged Travelogue Channel 4 (UK) the first travel programme on North Korea (1995) with Andy Kershaw.

    —  Wallpaper Magazine: feature for North Korea architecture feature article, February 2002.

    —  Various cultural exchanges including music and sport, arranging the first friendship football matches between local Koreans and westerners.

    —  International Coordinator for the Pyongyang International Film Festival. In 2004 with the support of the British Ambassador in DPRK and Ealing Studios we screened Bend It Like Beckham in Pyongyang. Whilst this is remarkable in its own right what is truly amazing is that it was seen by approximately 10,000 Koreans.


    —  The documentary film on the North Korean World Cup team of 1966. A team who had created the greatest shock in World Cup history—they arrived as 2000 to 1 outsiders but they beat Italy: one of the favourites and went through to the quarter finals in England.

    —  In 1966 there were many political shenanigans regarding the arrival of the North Korean team—the British Government did not want to give recognition to North Korea—they succeeded in no national anthems (apart from opening and closing ceremonies) and no reference to "DPRK", only "North Korea" was permitted.

    —  The team who came to the UK as the enemy and left having created the greatest coup- were embraced by the footballing world and above all adopted by the town of Middlesbrough, their exploits the stuff of legend. Yet once their adventure was over, the plane taking them home might as well have been flying them to the moon.

    —  Allegations in the West were that the team had been disgraced on their return to North Korea, they had lost their semi-final game against Portugal because of too much drinking and womanising.

    —  No one believed we would meet the players let alone be allowed to film and therefore no choice but to cancel or raise the money with family and friends.

    —  We met the players and the access we had was incredible. For the first time westerners had access to North Koreas heroes and a glimpse into their society.

    —  We followed the allegations of player Pak Sung Jin's incarceration and of the "womanising and drinking" and the arrest of the players on their return to North Korea.

    —  The film was a phenomenal success, screened worldwide and of greatest interest it was the first time a documentary had been shown both in the North and South. It won the Royal Television Society award and Pyongyang film festival "special prize".

    —  In October 2002 we took the players back to UK. Funding was not forthcoming. We approached many potential sponsors but they were without doubt aware of the sensitivity of being seen as "supporting the rogue regime". Virgin Atlantic flew the players over first class to UK but from then on it was literally the players washing their own smalls and friends putting them up—generous donations from individuals allowed us to rent the bus, pay for accommodation, meals etc.

    —  The players were given standing ovations as they came on the pitch at Everton and Middlesbrough over 100,000 fans in total. We received worldwide coverage. The South Korean Ambassador to UK attended the reception for the North Korea team and met the players.

    —  The North Korean delegation travelled to Britain with a cameraman and the resulting documentary they made was shown 9 times in DPRK. It was the first time that Britain had been portrayed in a positive light to the Koreans. The biggest impact was in DPRK—thank you for looking after our players.

    —  The return of the players was the most significant cultural exchange North Korea has been involved in and was probably the only significant positive press North Korea have ever had in the West.

    —  In 2003 and 2004 we took in three amateur football teams to play local Korean teams.


    —  Our second film was on the MASS GAMES we thought we would get access to the mechanics of the mass games what we did not realise was the insight into DPRK society we would be allowed.

    —  The documentary screened in both North and South Korea but on this occasion had a film run in the USA and premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, New York. It has received critical acclaim—for many it confirms their pre-conceived ideas on the control of the government, for others it also reveals the humanity of the people of North Korea.

    —  The North Korean criticism of our film was that the film "was not as good as `The Game of Their Lives' but was rather dull to a Korean because it was just like normal life". We could not have asked for a better criticism.

    —  We have never had our films or radio shows censored, the first time the Koreans see the film is when it has already been broadcast in the west. In both films we have had this unprecedented access and broached sensitive subjects and in so doing have revealed a greater insight into North Korean society.

    —  We are currently in post production of our new documentary on the US defectors who crossed from South Korea to North Korea in the 1960's. PFC James Dresnok is currently still living in Pyongyang.


    —  DPRK (North Korea) is the least visited country in the world. Koryo Group specialises in tourism and we believe that this industry should be encouraged. Tourism allows the Koreans to develop an understanding of the West, to train staff and to use English—again to expose the Koreans to the world outside. In 2005 we took 700 tourists, double that of two years ago and represents approximately 70% of all the western tourists visiting the country.

    —  Tourism provides money brought in through legal channels. It requires the DPRK government to commit to a peaceful structure that interacts with the outside world.

    —  We have helped open up new areas and itineraries for tourists which in turn improve contact with our Korean hosts. We push for local payment to provide finance directly to the local populace.. Increased tourism creates the need for the training of new guides and associated staff for whom contact with westerners may have otherwise have been impossible.

    —  Tourism has provided the access for several successful cultural exchanges—football friendship matches (amateur teams from Ireland, Holland, Hong Kong playing with North Korean teams) and school exchanges.

    —  We have consulted for the Lonely Planet and Bradt Travel Guides, the only travel guides to the country.

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Prepared 13 August 2006