Changing China

Giant on the move

Waiting for the IAEA

April 16, 2009

There is a strong element of farce to covering the North Korea story, which should perhaps come as no surprise considering what an unusual, isolated place it is and how hard verifiable news is to come by.

One never knows quite what to believe, with all the strange stories that seep out about Kim Jong-il’s love of pizza, the rants of North Korea’s official KCNA news agency and numerous other bizarre tales, including these two.


But it reached another low this week with the arrival in Beijing from North Korea of a team of expelled nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The Beijing media corps dutifully rushed down to the airport and massed in the arrivals hall, quivering cameras and microphones in hand, desperate for any news from the reclusive country which bars almost all foreign reporters.

Trouble was, nobody knew who the inspectors were or what they looked like. All we knew was that they were on the Air Koryo flight out of Pyongyang.

A dribble of passengers trickled trough, including occasional North Koreans sporting Kim Il-sung badges pinned to their lapels.

Then suddenly a chorus of “lai le!” (“they’re here!”) went up from a line of Chinese cameramen facing the incoming arriving passengers, which prompted a mad scramble to surround three rather
astonished-looking Western men.

“When will North Korea be able to restart its nuclear reactor? How did they tell you that you’d been expelled?” a reporter asked one of the men, over and over.

“They didn’t expel me, I had to go,” the passenger rather gamely replied, before pushing his way out of the airport and refusing to say anything else, aside from that he had to go to Mongolia — not a country known for its nuclear programme.

Another passenger was a little more forthcoming: “We don’t know anything. We’re just tourists.”

Which would presumably explain their lack of knowledge about North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

It later turned out that the real inspectors had slipped out amid the confusion, without saying anything to the press, leaving us none the wiser about the next development in the ongoing drama that is North Korea.

Photo caption: U.N. nuclear inspectors arrive in Beijing after leaving Pyongyang April 16, 2009. REUTERS/Grace Liang

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