Go to contents

THE DONG-A ILBO Logo

Inside the English-proficient North Korean ambassador

Posted February. 27, 2017 07:10,   

Updated February. 27, 2017 07:21

한국어

“It is nearly impossible to flatter your appearance. Do you agree?” This straightforward question came from an online user who was directed to former Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing during his incumbency. In traditional Chinese culture, one’s appearance, words, writings, and judgement were the four barometers of a virtuous man. To Li, appearance was certainly not his best strength. Still, Li responded, saying, “My mother will never agree with your opinion. My task is to dress China beautiful to foreigners, not to groom my appearance.” Indeed, it was a brilliant answer from a seasoned and witty diplomat.

Nevertheless, good appearance with great eloquence will never do harm, especially for diplomats who engage in frequent meetings. Incumbent Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who is famous for his handsome appearance in the Sinosphere is also famous for his facial expressions in abrupt circumstances. Still, no matter how competent a diplomat is, it will be difficult for him or her to represent national interest boldly when motherland remains shameful. Senior Korean diplomats confessed that it was always frustrating to explain suppressed democracy and human rights violations during the former military tyranny.

Many quote that North Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Cheol “seems to be better in English than former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon” when he spoke in English during an interview on the assassination of Kim Jong Nam. His stiff appearance or absurd logic is no more than that of a North Korean, but it seems that his English was surprisingly proficient. Still, it will be a stereotype to consider all North Korean diplomats bad in English. For example, the Guardian commented on former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom Thae Yong Ho was “charming, smart and with impeccable English.” It was also known that current North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho spoke such fluent English.

Diplomats defected from North Korea pointed their fingers to Pyongyang when Ambassador Kang fiercely refuted that “we cannot trust the investigation results made by Malaysian police.” Indeed, it will be even safer for him to exaggerate his expressions, as the North Korean leader will also be watching from North Korea. Nonetheless, it is surprising to hear that the answer tune played on Kang’s mobile phone is “Blame” by the English pop-singer Calvin Harris, which repeats "don’t blame it on me." Surely, answer tunes will not be the subject of censorship from Pyongyang.