Written evidence submitted by Koryo Group
THE VALUE OF INFORMAL DIPLOMACY AND CULTURAL
EXCHANGES IN NORTH KOREA (DPRK)
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 itthere
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 edgesand
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
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 footballeven
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 successthe 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
The biggest impact of our exchanges
has been in DPRKwe 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
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.
CURRENT & PAST
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
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
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 3Arranged the first
music programme on North Korea with Andy Kershaw, "Kershaw
in North Korea", (Sony nomination 2003).
BBC Radio 4Profiled 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
The documentary film on the North
Korean World Cup team of 1966. A team who had created the greatest
shock in World Cup historythey 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 teamthe
British Government did not want to give recognition to North Koreathey
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
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 upgenerous 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 DPRKthank 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.
A STATE OF
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
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 acclaimfor 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
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 Englishagain 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 exchangesfootball 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