In the 13th century, the Mongol Empire was the largest global empire in the world that spanned across Europe and Asia, and through a system of Pax Monoglica (“Mongol Peace”) which allowed for the transcontinental trade of technologies, commodities and ideologies through the inception of the Silk Road. Founded by Genghis Khan, who unified and brought stability in a region where there were many warring tribes, the Mongol Empire would serve as an influential model for the rise of the Ming Dynasty and what is now known as modern China.
Currently, as China is launching the Silk Road 2.0 via The One Belt, One Road Plan that will connect Asia with Africa and Europe in a series of trade routes, the question of how North Korea will fit into the global landscape of trade will come into play. During the 1990s, President Bill Clinton was largely responsible for opening trade relations with China, and in 2000, he signed the US-China Relations Act, which allowed for a permanent, normal trade relations with China.
Although, China transformed from a communist nation to revert back to its capitalistic era of the Ming Dynasty through its alliance with the United States; and in a similar way, as South Korea transformed from a primarily rural nation into a high tech nation in the span of just three decades, North Korea remained insular, paralysed by sanctions and resisted external influence.
The Road (2009, dir: John Hillcoat) based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. The Road tells the story of a father and his young son, attempting to escape a famine in the North to try to find their salvation towards the South on the road to freedom in a tale that parallels the stories of North Korean refugees.
However, as President Trump has opened a dialogue with North Korea, after decades of being shut off from diplomatic relations, this represents a revolutionary, new era for the nation in which North Korea can transform from a rogue nation to one that is connected to the global landscape of trade.
So what has McDonald’s got to do with the upcoming North Korean-US Summit in June 2018?
A SYMBOL OF GLOBAL ENTERPRISE
Since the end of the Cold War, McDonald’s has become an eponymous symbol of enterprise, liberal values, and global trade. There is a McDonald’s in nearly every nation, from the vegetarian branches in India to the ones with marble floors and grand pianos in the Czech Republic, to the exotic McDonald’s in Yanshuo, China and the architecturally stunning Galleria Vittoria Emanuelle in Milan to the recreation of the original 1950’s McDonald’s drive through in Ulsan, South Korea, McDonald’s has had an international presence which also stands for peace and global trade.
McDonald's in Ulsan, South Korea, modeled after the original 1950's McDonald's Drive-through with a futuristic Jetson's aesthetic.
However, the nations that currently do not have a McDonald’s are: Libya, Syria, Iran and North Korea. Although Iran originally opened a McDonald’s in 1971, by 1979 it was closed due to the Islamic Revolution when all foreign corporations were forced out of the country. In addition, Iraq also did not have a McDonald’s until the Iraq War in 2006 when one was built for US Soldiers on one of their camp bases in Baghdad.
There appears to be a distinct pattern in the fates of nations in which McDonald’s and other foreign corporations are prevented from entering their market.
HOW NORTH KOREA CAN AVOID THE FATE OF LIBYA AND IRAQ
Recently, North Korea issued a statement that they did not want “unilateral nuclear abandonment” due to their fear that they will end up like Libya and Iraq in which they expressed that nuclear abandonment had lead to their demise. North Korea’s foreign minister had said that nuclear abandonment was “an invasion tactic to disarm the country”.
However, the key difference is that in Libya and Iraq, due to strong anti-foreign sentiment and the insular propaganda that defined their regimes, foreign corporations were not able to enter their market at all. These nations were closed to global trade with the US, and prevented US corporations from entering their market. Whereas, in nations such as China, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, they readily opened their shores for business in exchange of technologies, commodities, investment and ideologies which has lead to the expansion of wealth.
“He would be in his country, he would be running his country, his country would be very rich.”
- President Trump doesn’t beat around with fancy words when asked about Kim Jong Un and making a deal at the North Korean Summit
The US has guaranteed safety for Kim Jong Un and said they do not seek a regime change in the nation. Kim Jong Un is a young millennial who was educated in Switzerland, and may have a different mindset from that of his predecessors; he is a fan of basketball, US television shows, such as a The Family Guy and has been quoted by Dennis Rodman that “[Kim Jong Un] doesn’t want a nuclear war”.
ATHLETES AS DIPLOMATS
It used to be that stuffy men in suits would shuffle back and forth during expansive formal dinners to discuss world affairs to keep relationships in check as part of diplomacy, and this part still remains the core practice today. But something radical began during the Obama Administration in which an athlete, a basketball star, Dennis Rodman was granted access to visit North Korea by the state department.
Dennis Rodman, in an appearance on the Stephen Colbert show last year, in which he wore a t-shirt with the words: Unite with a picture of himself in between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
In 2013, Dennis Rodman visited North Korea for the first time, as a personal guest of Kim Jong Un, who is an avid fan of basketball. They developed a friendship over time and cultivated a relationship that moved past the formal pleasantries of ambassadors and diplomats to one that advocated unity.
Through Dennis Rodman, the US got a glimpse into the rogue nation: marijuana was legal there and everyone smoked it; despite reports in the US media that Kim Jong Un had assassinated his uncle to remain in power, Rodman reported that his uncle was there with him the entire time. Rodman also said, “[Kim Jong Un] is just a kid who inherited his family’s political power”. The wall of silence between the US and North Korea began to lift and the seeds of peace became cultivated to the present day, in which, President Trump, in a revolutionary break with tradition, said he would meet with North Korean leaders for the first time in history since the Korean War stalemate in 1953 and gave North and South Korea, “blessings for peace”.
THE PARLIAMENTARY MONARCHY AS A NEW MODEL FOR NORTH KOREA
As absolute monarchies and the practice of primogeniture were being overthrown in Europe and Asia in favour of communism during the turn of the century, Queen Elizabeth II did something remarkable that saved the monarchy from an uncertain fate. She transitioned the monarchy from a constitutional monarchy to that of a parliamentary monarchy in which she had ceded her power. Although, the current role of the British Monarch is ceremonial in nature, Queen Elizabeth II retained her titular position and influence over the nation, and continues to have a close relationship with the Prime Minister and acts as adviser on matters of national interest whilst keeping the historical traditions of the nation alive.
It was reported that nearly 2 billion people worldwide watched the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, an American divorcée, over the weekend; an unprecedented viewing for any Royal Wedding. The Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle not only captured the hearts of people worldwide but reiterated the UK’s special relationship with the US, and has launched the monarchy into its highest popularity rating ever in the US, Canada and Australia, and set to generate more than £1 billion in tourism, retail, fashion, merchandising and PR value for brands, according to accountancy firm Brand Finance.
This kind of exertion of soft power (eg, power through influence, branding, cultural values, education and media) should serve as a guide for Kim Jong Un, and the model which could be integrated with South Korea, should a reunification of the Korean peninsula occur within the next 10 years.
From an once oppressive regime that followed Stalin’s model of labour camps, censorship and punishment without regard to human rights, Kim Jong Un, now stands at a crossroads, in which he could alter the path of despotism that his family has inherited from the influence of the former Soviet Union to transition his nation towards a modern, constitutional model that resembles Queen Elizabeth II’s United Kingdom, in which, his family would ascend to become the titular role models to become advocates for architecture, art, charitable causes, humanitarianism, education, women’s rights and health care.
The Gulag Archipelago details life in a Soviet forced labour camp, the model which has served North Korea's labour camps. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its gulag forced labor camp system and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970.
This is a path that would separate North Korea from an uncertain fate such as that of Libya, Iraq, Syria and Iran and one that separates the Kim Jong Un family from the Husseins and Gaddafis to one that opens its doors to global trade, embraces the liberal values of the global world and leaves a lasting legacy on the Korean peninsula.