North Korea hosted the ITF Taekwon-Do World Championships this month for the first time in 19 years, opening its doors to 800 athletes from more than 80 countries, including the United States.
Listen to Sungwon Baik discuss his trip to North Korea with Sarah Williams.
Hosting an international event draws unwanted attention from the outside, but it also brings in much needed foreign currency. Mobile phones offered one cash injection. Foreign visitors could rent a phone for $3.50 a day, but to call outside the country, it cost $6 per minute.
During the games, officials from the reclusive nation took the opportunity to tell the western news media they want closer ties.
“More engagement is better for improving relations with North Korea and the United States,” said Chang Ung, a North Korean delegate to the International Olympic Committee. “Active engagement, coupled with visits from both sides, are good because they should help understand each other better.”
Improving relations means improving North Korea’s image. Despite the mounting pressure of a chronic food shortage, the government says it has launched a massive campaign to make North Korea prosperous in 2012.
Next year marks a century since the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, and the government is trying to put a shine on its image with infrastructure projects.
Military parades are usually held every five years, in years ending in zero or five. But this year, outside the hotel housing the foreign press covering the Taekwon-Do championships, North Korea conducted a large military parade.
Experts believe the show of force was aimed at demonstrating North Korea’s military power ahead of next year’s centennial celebrations.