The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Columbia professor says North Korea must be a priority for US

Charles Armstrong believes United States relations with North Korea are improving, despite the country’s plans to launch a satellite in April to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung.

The specialist, who is director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University, spoke Tuesday to about 50 people on North Korea-U.S. relations. and the history of the Kim family.

“The main problem is not that the Obama administration is particularly hostile but that it has not been a priority,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong said he has been to North Korea more times than North Carolina. He shared pictures and experiences from his trips.

Sophomore Chelsea Weiermiller said she was impressed by the pictures of daily life, such as an amusement park.

“Most Americans think of North Korea as a mystery,” she said.

Armstrong showed pictures of modern-dressed families in Pyongyang, the capital.

“It’s a lot different than I thought,” said junior Colleen Wang.

“I still think they dress like the 80s, but I was surprised it wasn’t that way.”

Though the culture is taking steps to become more modern, such as widespread cellphone use, Armstrong said the Kim dynasty’s ideology is stagnant.

Armstrong said the succession of leaders from Kim Il-sung to Kim Jong-il to Kim Jong-un has solidified the country as the only communist dynasty in the world.

“This complete unity gathered around the leader and centered around the family of the leader… will be very difficult to change,” he said.

“My prediction is that it could go on for some time,” he added.

Armstrong said that North Korea becoming part of China is unrealistic, and he doesn’t think North Korea will rejoin with South Korea.

He said young people in South Korea are not enthusiastic about the idea.

“Everyone in South Korea has to be in favor, but general consensus is, ‘Not yet,’ because of social and government costs,” Armstrong said.

Though North Koreans are not allowed to interact with South Koreans, Armstrong said North Koreans feel comfortable with South Korean culture.

Armstrong said he wasn’t able to speak to people on the street while visiting North Korea, but the regime strives to present a happy society, and he even compared it to North Carolina.

“One thing that North Carolina and North Korea have in common is love of basketball,” he said.

“Kim Jong-il was a big fan.”

Contact the University Editor at

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Special Print Edition
The Daily Tar Heel Victory Paper for November 20, 2023