North Korea is a mystery to nearly everyone — even those who have dedicated their lives to studying the country — including Korean experts based in Seoul, national security experts in Washington or Beijing, and a variety of foreigners who have spent extended periods studying in or reporting from the North. There is great uncertainty about what the country’s leaders really think of China, how self-sufficient the North’s economy actually is, and even the background of the “respected” leader, Kim Jong-un, beyond a few seemingly random details (he studied in Switzerland and likes basketball and Whitney Houston, for example).
Evan Osnos — former Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker and now the magazine’s correspondent in the currently far more unpredictable capital of the U.S. — recently travelled to the Hermit Kingdom and reported an extensive cover piece for that magazine: “The risk of nuclear war with North Korea.”
What are the prospects for war and peace in northeast Asia? Evan talked with Jeremy and Kaiser about his conversations with North Korean, Chinese, and U.S. government officials and people involved in the complicated regional powerplay.
Jeremy: Jeeves & Wooster, a comedy TV series adapted from the P.G. Wodehouse books about a gormless English aristocrat and his very bright butler, played by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry, respectively. It’s “really a wonderful escapist pleasure [for] when you don’t feel like thinking about Donald Trump and North Korea,” Jeremy adds.
Evan: The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot, a book by Blaine Harden that explains how North Koreans think about the Korean war — an essential piece of the current conundrum we all face.
Kaiser: China in Disintegration, by James Sheridan, a narrative history of the Republican Era (1912-1949) in China. Events during the period such as the Republican Revolution and the May Fourth Movement are key to understanding modern China.