5 ways North Korea keeps getting stranger

Story highlights

North Korea has declared the United States a "sworn enemy"

But recently, American dignitaries have been welcomed in Pyongyang

North Korea recently carried out a nuclear test that it called a new phase of confrontation

It seems North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong Un is carrying on his father’s strange tradition: mixing a fascination with American culture with a hatred of the United States.

Kim has made it quite clear that his country’s February nuclear test marks a new phase of confrontation with the United States, which Pyongyang has described as “the sworn enemy of the Korean people.”

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Yet that hasn’t stopped Pyongyang from welcoming a few dignitaries from this “sworn enemy” nation, including a top Google executive and a few basketball stars.

No one knows if it’s all part of an organized effort to woo North Korea into diplomacy by appealing to its leader’s interest in American culture. Yet one thing is for sure: This love-hate relationship has sparked some odd stories out of the Hermit Kingdom. Here’s a look at some of the most recent ones we’ve come across:

1. Kim Jong Un: Dennis Rodman’s new BFF

If you read the reports about former NBA star Dennis Rodman’s visit to Pyongyang, you might have double-checked whether the story was just another Onion parody.

Not only did the American basketball star – known for his over-the-top publicity stunts – visit North Korea, but he also was joined by three members of the famed Harlem Globetrotters, who played against North Korea’s “Dream Team” (no surprise, the game ended in a tie). Rodman proclaimed Kim “a friend for life,” and appeared courtside with the North Korean leader.

Not everyone was cheering this so-called “basketball diplomacy.” A commentary in Canada’s National Post outlined North Korea’s “monstrous gulag system that Dennis Rodman will never see.”

And CNN contributor John Avlon wrote that Rodman isn’t the only “celebrity to be used for publicity purposes to prop up a dictator.”

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2. Google executive urges country with barely any electricity to embrace the Internet

You’ve probably seen that NASA satellite photo of the Korean peninsula at night, the one that shows the northern half completely dark while the southern half and the Chinese coast are fully alight. Electricity is still a luxury in North Korea, where cold winds from nearby Siberia can plunge temperatures below freezing. But that didn’t stop Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt from visiting North Korea in January as part of a delegation urging North Korea to “make it possible for people to use the Internet.”

While many North Koreans might be more interested in having a heated home, Schmidt and his Google colleague Jared Cohen have advocated about the Internet’s ability to empower citizens living under oppressive regimes.

3. Famous Americans apparently aren’t the only ones heading to Pyongyang

In the wake of the Schmidt and Rodman visits, Bloomberg Businessweek looked at just how many Westerners are heading to North Korea for its closely monitored, government-run tours. Surprisingly, it found a nearly 20% increase in visits since 2011.

4. Get your North Korean education … in Tokyo

The United States isn’t the only outside country that has a love-hate relationship with North Korea. Until the end of World War II, Korea was a Japanese colony, and many Koreans were brought to Japan – many against their will – before Korea was divided between north and south. More recently, North Korea admitted to kidnapping Japanese citizens from Japanese soil in the 1970s and 1980s, something Tokyo has demanded more answers about.

Despite this tense history, Japan hosts a number of North Korean-funded schools – complete with portraits of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and previous leader Kim Jong Il on its walls. Students, who are mostly Japanese, say they are learning Korean culture and language, and laugh off suggestions that they’re training to be spies.

5. Dreaming of annihilating the United States, to the tune of ‘We Are The World’

It’s no secret that North Korea’s propaganda images are bizarre, at least to the non-North Korean eye. If this doesn’t make sense, just search Google Images for “North Korea propaganda.” Yet one video released in the run-up to North Korea’s nuclear test on Pyongyang’s official website still managed to raise some eyebrows.

The video – set to the tune of “We Are The World,” the 1985 song written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie heralding world peace – shows a North Korean man dreaming about an apparent missile attack on the United States. “Black smoke was billowing somewhere in America,” the caption in Korean reads.

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