Belfast Telegraph

If the cold war between North and South Korea can be neutered by a bit of common courtesy, could our leaders not try it too?

By Lindy McDowell

Reports this week that the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was apparently "deeply moved" by a pop concert in Pyongyang featuring K-Pop stars (as they're called) from neighbouring South Korea.

Indeed we're told his heart "swelled" as he watched the audience in the northern capital clap along enthusiastically as southern girl bands, boy bands and solo artistes blasted out their hits.

To set this heart-swelling emotional response in context, we need to remember that this is the same North Korean despot who was previously reported to have had family members obliterated by missile merely because he suspected they weren't singing from his same regime songsheet.

You wouldn't want to hit a bum note with Mr Kim.

One performer at the northern concert admitted later that she had been nervous about even shaking hands with the North Korean leader. You can well understand why. The Royal Variety Concert, this wasn't.

But the event follows another recent goodwill gesture when athletes from the north competed at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

And as a result of all this cultural to-ing and fro-ing, annual joint military drills by the Americans and South Koreans - an inevitable source of provocation to the North - now appear to have been scaled down this year.

Next up amid this sudden outbreak of niceness are talks scheduled between leaders of both north and south and even plans for a meeting between Kim and, God help us, Donald Trump, who's previously taken to calling him "Little Rocket Man" (there's a song in there somewhere).

Would it help if Mr Trump were, in future meetings, to avail of similar pop music diplomacy?

Would releasing, say, big guns like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus help further swell and maybe even melt the heart of plutonium-plated Mr Kim?

Or would it merely confirm the Great Leader's views about the decadence of Western values and the woeful state of the American music industry?

Actually, the interesting point, I think, is that, between two states with the hardest of hard borders, what's being used to bring people together isn't demands for rights or preconditions or concessions.

It's the people's shared culture of sport and music and entertainment. Trivial things, maybe.

But such is outreach, Gangnam Style.

And tellingly, where the threat of nuclear warheads had previously failed to move the south to even countenance unity talks, in this instance an invite to Red Velvet, a five-piece girl band whose hits include Ice Cream Cake ( sample lyrics; "It's so tasty, come and chase me") seems to have done the business.

A message there for our own embittered leaders?

Okay, so it may take more than a pop concert at Stormont to sort out the impasse here.

But there is something fascinating about how quickly the cold war (and very nearly nuclear war) between North and South Korea seems to have been neutered by what can only be described as common courtesy.

How just the smallest and, some might even say, inconsequential gestures of civility have allowed a genuine warmth to blossom between two feuding tribes.

Why can't we try that here?

You have to ask - just how often do our political leaders sit down together in Northern Ireland to talk?

I don't mean to talk about talks, legacy issues, language issues and what have you.

I mean, just to talk. To chat. To be pleasant with one another. To get to know one another.

I get the feeling there are some of them who really don't talk a lot to each other at all.

And not just here in Northern Ireland either.

Frankly, currently, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of north-south conversation going on either.

The two Korean states share a much harder border than anything envisaged post-Brexit in Ireland. Even Nigel Farage isn't calling for a demilitarised zone with fortified walls, barbed wire and gun embrasures where anyone attempting to cross is shot on sight.

That's what you call a hard border.

And not so long ago we were reading about how a southern (Irish) politician, minister of state John Halligan, horrified by the continuing Korean stand-off, was offering to travel to Pyongyang to talk to Kim Jong Un to try to encourage him to "engage in democracy".

Actually, it might fit better if someone like Deputy Halligan were to invite Mr Kim here instead.

If only because those who currently need to be convinced to "engage in democracy" may be a whole lot closer to home than the pop-appreciating despot of Pyongyang.

Marching gangsters can't hide true colours

Is there some sort of dressing-up gene in the paramilitary DNA? I ask only because we've had yet another weekend of marching 'troops' kitted out in what I assume is, ironically, British Army ex-surplus stock of camouflage gear.

For a real army, this would make some sense. For paramilitary thugs on both sides whose modus operandi is sleekit, cowardly attacks far away from anything resembling a traditional battlefield, it's just travesty.

No matter how they think they're dressing it up, there's a difference between a real braveheart and a paramilitary gangster.

Children named after Ikea? (Flat)pack it in

According to a report, parents are so stuck for unusual forenames for their children that they're now copying labels for Ikea products. Thus Malm, Ingo, Mydal and Tarva. All popular names taken, we're told, from Scandinavian flat-pack inspiration. If you want to set your child apart, no better way than to name him after a cut-price sideboard.

Among the names being attributed to this trend is, we're informed, Billy. Ikea, after all, does a 'Billy' bookcase range. Fair enough. But, call me a cynic, I'm still not totally convinced most of our local Billies are named after Swedish shelving.

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