No missiles but ballet as North Korea’s Kim puts on a show

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju, and Song Tao, head of the International Department of Communist Party of China Central Committee, applaud with ballet dancers in Pyongyang. (KCNA via Reuters)
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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, his wife Ri Sol Ju, and Song Tao, head of the International Department of Communist Party of China Central Committee, watch a ballet performance in Pyongyang. (KCNA via Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2018
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No missiles but ballet as North Korea’s Kim puts on a show

SEOUL: Kim Jong Un hobnobbed with a visiting Chinese ballet troupe as he capped a weekend of celebrations in the North Korean capital that conspicuously lacked a show of military might that marked many previous festivals.
The festivities surrounded the April 15 “The Day of the Sun,” the anniversary of the birth of the founder of North Korea and the Kim dynasty, Kim Il Sung, in 1912.
On last year’s Day of the Sun, Kim put on a military parade bristling with his latest ballistic missiles, exacerbating international tension over his nuclear weapon and missile programs.
Past festivals also featured various cultural and economic displays, but the absence of military overtones this year was more in line with a message of reconciliation that Kim has sought to cultivate in recent months as he made his first visit to neighboring China and announced plans to talk with the leaders of South Korea and the United States.
Photos released by state media, as well as by tour companies that brought foreign tourists in for the holiday and a Spring Friendship Art Festival, showed no weapons but instead a weekend of performances, fireworks, dancing and sports.
In pictures released by state media from a ballet performance late on Monday, Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were seen applauding, posing with dancers, and laughing with the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international liaison department, Song Tao.
Song led a Chinese troupe to North Korea for the festival.
Kim, in a meeting with Song on Sunday, said he was personally meeting the visiting performers out of respect for Chinese President Xi Jinping and said he wanted to launch a “fresh phase of development” of relations between their countries.
North Korea’s ties with China, its sole major ally, had become strained over the past couple of years over the North’s contentious missile and nuclear tests, which China disapproves of.
But in late March, Kim made a visit to Beijing, his first known journey abroad since he took power in 2011.
The visit came amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts by the North, starting a New Year speech in which Kim opened the door to participating in February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea.
On April 27, Kim is scheduled to make history when he meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a summit just inside South Korean territory on the fortified border that divides the two countries. He will be the first North Korean leader to step on South Korean soil.
US President Donald Trump has said he plans to meet Kim in May or early June.
American officials are still skeptical of Kim’s sudden overtures, with Trump’s pick for secretary of state, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, telling lawmakers last week that North Korea should not expect rewards from talks with the United States until it takes irreversible steps to give up its nuclear weapons.


David Attenborough makes impassioned plea for natural world in Davos interview with Prince William

Updated 22 January 2019
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David Attenborough makes impassioned plea for natural world in Davos interview with Prince William

DAVOS, Switzerland: Naturalist David Attenborough won a standing ovation from delegates at the World Economic Forum after warning them that the planet faces destruction if climate change is not dealt with imminently.

In an interview conducted by Prince William, Attenborough said it is “difficult to overstate the climate change crisis.”

He said humans have become “so numerous” and possess a “frightening” array of destructive mechanisms that “we can exterminate whole ecosystems without realizing.”

Attenborough was the star turn on the first day of the gathering of the business and political elites in the Swiss ski resort of Davos.

Attenborough urged participants to preserve the childlike wonder with which they first encountered the natural world. “I don’t believe a child has yet been born who doesn’t look at the world around it with those fresh eyes and wonder,” he said. “If you lose that first wonder, you’ve lost one of the great sources of delight, and pleasure, and beauty in the whole of the universe,” he said.

“Caring for that brings joy and enlightenment that is irreplaceable.”

Nature filmmaking, he noted, has benefited immensely from the advance of technology. “The facilities we now have are unbelievable. We can go everywhere. We can to the bottom of the sea, we can go into space. We can use drones, we can use helicopters … we can speed things up, we can slow things down, and film in the darkness. The natural world has never been exposed to this degree before,” he said.

But with these technological advances came a growing awareness of the dangerous power in the hands of humanity. “When I started 60 years ago, in the mid-50s, to be truthful there was no one who thought we might annihilate the world. The notion that human beings might exterminate whole species seemed the exception. Now we are well aware that … we can do things to accidentally to destroy whole parts of the natural world and exterminate whole species,” Attenborough warned.

Even as the ready accessibility of nature programs and the ability of filmmakers to reach the remotest corners of the world have made it easier for people to learn about nature, humanity’s connectedness with the natural world is more tenuous than ever. “Now there are more people living in towns, in conurbations, than living in the wild,” said Attenborough. “The majority of people are out of touch to some degree with the richness of the natural world.”

The threat posed by anthropogenic climate change is “difficult to overstate,” he said. “We are now so numerous, so powerful, so all-pervasive, and the mechanisms we have for destruction are so frightening that we have really to be aware of the dangers,” he warned. Humanity has done “appalling damage upon marine life, the extent of which we don’t fully know,” said Attenborough.

“I think the paradox is that there’s never been a time when more people are out of touch with the natural world, and yet we have to recognize that every breath of air and every mouthful of food comes from the natural world – and if we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves. It’s not just beauty and wonder: it is essential to human life. We are in the danger of wrecking that. We are destroying the natural world, and with it, ourselves,” he said.

But his outlook is not pessimistic. “We are discovering more ways in which we can get in front of [the pending disaster]. The fact we are now beginning to get power directly from the sun, with no need to pollute the world with by-products of our devices, is becoming reality all over the world,” he said. “We have the power, we have the knowledge, to live in harmony with nature.”

Attenborough then previewed powerful scenes from his latest film, which will debut at the World Economic Forum. The scenes of an Arctic glacier calving, with skyscraper-sized blocks of translucent blue ice crashing spectacularly into turbulent seas, were shot, as Attenborough explained, by skilled teams on helicopters maintaining steady positions despite powerful and unpredictable updrafts. “Within 20 minutes,” Attenborough narrates,” 75 million tons of ice break free.”

Attenborough is spearheading efforts to strengthen conservation efforts for a summit in Beijing in 2020.

Attenborough told the audience that, “Every breath of air we take, every mouthful of food comes from the natural world and that if we damage the natural world we damage ourselves.”