On Monday, word got out that Dennis Rodman, former NBA star, would visit North Korea; though no explanation as to why was given. Rodman was seen at an airport in Beijing but did not make any comments as to what he was doing. The nature of his visits to the country have always been mostly unknown, but many believe that it is important to know more about this one, considering the escalation of tensions between the United States and North Korea. Rodman is one of Kim Jong Un’s favorite Americans, and one of the only Americans to ever meet Un.
Rodman later told reporters that he just hopes to, “Do something pretty positive.” and that the nature of his visit is more friendly than political. He continued to explain that he wants to bring more sports to North Korea and continue his relationship with Un through what many call “basketball diplomacy“.
However, some speculate that Rodman is being sent in order to appease officials in Pyongyang and help free the American prisoners that North Korea is currently holding. So far, these speculations seem to hold true. American student Otto Warmbier, who was serving a 15-year sentence, was recently released from a North Korean prison. Warmbier was serving a sentence for removing a political banner outside of a hotel. In a similar series of events in 2014, North Korea released two of its American prisoners after a visit from then-Director of National Intelligence: James Clapper. And in 2010, former president Jimmy Carter made a trip to North Korea to free prisoner Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced to eight years of labor after crossing the border into North Korea.
In addition, it is believed that Rodman was sent by Trump to secretly communicate with the North Koreans. Trump hosted Rodman on Celebrity Apprentice twice, and Rodman went on to endorse Trump’s candidacy for president, so a good-natured relationship between the two is not so far fetched. Rumors have circulated that Trump has been working to set up a secret line of communication with North Korea, and some believe that Trump intends to use Rodman to do so. It has already been established that Trump attempted to set up a secret back channel to Pyongyang through a private associate, but there is uncertainty around whether or not Rodman’s trip is connected to these efforts.
According to Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea analyst that has advised Rodman on several of his trips, Rodman has a “long-standing invitation” back to North Korea. In total, Rodman has made four trips to the country and even sang happy birthday to Kim Jong Un while standing on a basketball court. He has told Un that he has a “friend for life“, and has earned the North Korean leader’s trust in a way that few, if any, Americans have. Rodman has received plenty of online criticism for supposedly aiding Trump in communication with North Korea, but others see it as a positive and believe that it is a good way to open up relationships between Washington and Pyongyang and hopefully bring back the rest of the prisoners in the process.