After the recent news about the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song Thaek by the firing squad which sent the shock waves around the world, the North Korean dictator is back in the spotlight.
This time, he celebrates his 31st birthday in Pyongyang and the guest of honor is the former basketball star Dennis Rodman from the United States. Rodman, who calls Kim Jong Un “his good friend”, took a group of former U.S. basketball players along on a trip to North Korea where a friendship match between a made-up American and North Korean teams took place on the occasion of Kim’s birthday.
Before the match, Rodman delivered a brief speech and sang “Happy Birthday” to Kim in front of a cheering North Korean audience. Rodman who played in the first quarter of the game later joined his friend Kim in the presidential box and watched them game.
This is Rodman’s fourth trip to North Korea in the last 12 months. Upon the arrival of Rodman and a group of American basketball players in Pyongyang, they were interviewed by CNN’s Chris Cuomo who had a bitter rebuff from Rodman when Cuomo asked about Kenneth Bae, a Korean-American who had been arrested and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by North Korea. The government in Pyongyang maintains that Bae, who was described as both a tour operator and Christian missionary used his tourism business to plot anti-government sedition.
During the interview, the defiant basketball player yelled at Cuomo asking if he knew what Bae “really did in this country”. He then stated that the American team was not there for politics but merely sought intercultural exchange and “basketball diplomacy.”
The State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki made a statement this week underlining that “Mr. Rodman is not there representing the United States.”