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Playing the clarinet on a nuclear scale
Playing the clarinet on a nuclear scale
Tori Otten

-Analysis-

As Kim Jong-un again edges the world closer to an unthinkable nuclear showdown, the tribulations of a humble music store owner in Berlin may help explain why it's so hard to figure out what to do with North Korea.

German daily Die Welt spoke last week with Andreas Schmucker about a court case pending against him after he sold a flute and a clarinet to three North Korean tourists in 2015. Within a matter of days, German authorities had informed him that he had violated a European Union trade sanction against North Korea that forbids the sale of luxury goods, including musical instruments. The penalty is up to five years in jail.

Five years for a clarinet seems a little extreme, though Schmucker — who was unaware of the EU embargo on musical instrument sales — almost certainly won't serve any time. But what is no less relevant from this tale is the reality that three citizens of the so-called "hermit kingdom" were touring the streets of Berlin.

Is Kim Jong-un a veritable madman or just a skilled poker player?

No, the Pyongyang puzzle is not easy to solve. The sound heard early this morning by residents of Hokkaido, Japan, was of missile sirens, not music. North Korea had successfully launched a missile over the northern island. Although this is the third time in recent history that Pyongyang has fired a missile over their neighbor, the other two times — in 1998 and 2009 — were satellite launch vehicles. This time, the missile appears to be a Hwasong-12, a newly developed intermediate range ballistic missile.

The world reacted quickly. South Korea immediately ordered a live bombing exercise, in a show of "overwhelming" military force. Japan called on the U.S. to increase pressure on North Korea, calling the missile an "unprecedented threat." Experts urged the U.S. government to forget diplomatic talks and crank up the sanctions. While an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting was called, U.S. President Donald Trump — who had responded with incendiary threats after Pyongyang's previous missile tests — released a more nuanced statement early Tuesday.

When it comes to North Korea, the world seems at a loss. Is Kim Jong-un a veritable madman or just a skilled poker player? Should Trump really prepare to unleash "fire and fury" or open up secret back-channel talks? Tighter sanctions or more clarinet shoppers in Berlin?

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Coronavirus

Chinese Students' "Absurd" Protest Against COVID Lockdowns: Public Crawling

While street demonstrations have spread in China to protest the strict Zero-COVID regulations, some Chinese university students have taken up public acts of crawling to show what extended harsh lockdowns are doing to their mental state.

​Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling on a soccer pitch

Screenshot of a video showing Chinese students crawling

Shuyue Chen

Since last Friday, the world has watched a wave of street protests have taken place across China as frustration against extended lockdowns reached a boiling point. But even before protesters took to the streets, Chinese university students had begun a public demonstration that challenges and shames the state's zero-COVID rules in a different way: public displays of crawling, as a kind of absurdist expression of their repressed anger under three years of strict pandemic control.

Xin’s heart was beating fast as her knees reached the ground. It was her first time joining the strange scene at the university sports field, so she put on her hat and face mask to cover her identity.

Kneeling down, with her forearms supporting her body from the ground, Xin started crawling with three other girls as a group, within a larger demonstration of other small groups. As they crawled on, she felt the sense of fear and embarrassment start to disappear. It was replaced by a liberating sense of joy, which had been absent in her life as a university student in lockdown for so long.

Yes, crawling in public has become a popular activity among Chinese university students recently. There have been posters and videos of "volunteer crawling" across universities in China. At first, it was for the sake of "fun." Xin, like many who participated, thought it was a "cult-like ritual" in the beginning, but she changed her mind. "You don't care about anything when crawling, not thinking about the reason why, what the consequences are. You just enjoy it."

The reality out there for Chinese university students has been grim. For Xin, her university started daily COVID-19 testing in November, and deliveries, including food, are banned. Apart from the school gate, all exits have been padlock sealed.

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