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Rodman Headed for Pyongyang Despite Political Turmoil

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Asia Life

Rodman Headed for Pyongyang Despite Political Turmoil

Days after Jang Song-Thaek’s execution, “The Worm” confirms a return visit.

Former NBA star and “basketball diplomat” Dennis Rodman confirmed his plans to return to North Korea next week, despite the apparent power struggle surrounding the execution of Kim Jong-Un’s uncle and second-in-command Jang Song-Thaek. The visit will coincide with Kim’s birthday, and Rodman has promised to work with the Hermit Kindgom’s national basketball team ahead of a January 8 exhibition game.

“Yes, I’m going to North Korea to train the basketball team,” Rodman told the AP. “I’m going to bring American players over there … I’m going to be the most famous person in the world when you see American people holding hands and hoping the doors can be opened. If they can … I’m going back for his birthday. Special.”

Kim Jong-Un, an NBA fan since his youth, welcomed Rodman and three members of the Harlem Globetrotters to Pyongyang last February. That trip, sponsored by Vice under a partnership with HBO, stirred controversy – but solidified the unlikely friendship between Kim and Rodman.

Upon his return, Rodman described Kim as his “friend for life.” He even revealed the name of Kim’s daughter, Je-Ae, in February.

Rodman’s latest trip will take place less than a month after the controversial incarceration and release of an 85-year-old Korean War veteran from the US. Even more troubling is its proximity to the violent purge of Kim’s uncle – who was allegedly killed, along with his subordinates, by a combination of machine gun fire and flamethrowers.

Kim’s sudden use of force may signal an internal power struggle – at the very least, it points to a heightened sense of paranoia and erraticism exhibited by the Great Leader.

“The chilling act suggests a young and suspicious leader purging the government of any challenge, real or imagined, to his authority,” said CSMonitor. [Will] the liquidation of the kind of experience that Jang brought to the regime will actually weaken Kim, who was educated in Switzerland and has a weak spot for Western culture?”

CSMonitor continued, “Kim may be trying to drive home the point – to both his domestic and international audiences – that he is the guy in charge, regional experts say. But they also wonder if Kim’s actions suggest he faces more challenges from North Korea’s two poles of power – the military and the Workers’ Party – than meet the eye.”

Beijing-based Koryo Tours, an operator that specializes in North Korea vacations, will be hosting a special package tour for the upcoming exhibition match in Pyongyang. The four-day trip will include the same flights and hotels as the yet-to-be-confirmed NBA stars playing in the game, while providing “unprecedented” access to North Korean players and officials.

For anyone bold – and wealthy – enough, the $9,000 trip can be booked through Koryo’s website.