Kim Jong Un Has Met With Dennis Rodman Twice, Leaders of Countries -- Never

On Oct. 28, Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj arrived in Pyongyang for a four day trip, the first known visit of a head of state to North Korea since Kim Jong Un took power in December 2011. But while Elbegdorj spent his days "meeting various officials and zipping around to Kim Il Sung University, a Pyongyang theater, the Munsu water fun park, the border with South Korea and Kim family mausoleum, among other places," according to The Wall Street Journal, he never met the man himself. Kim, who is not known to have left North Korea since assuming the presidency, has kept up an unbroken record of never having a meeting with another head of state. (Perhaps he's met with another head of state -- if so, the meeting has remained private.)

Becoming the first head of state to visit North Korea made sense from a Mongolian perspective, said Julian Dierkes, a Mongolia expert at the University of British Columbia. Sandwiched between China and Russia, Mongolia heeds to a "third neighbor policy:" its trying to expand its relationship with countries outside those countries orbits, like the United States, several European nations, and Japan. There's a sense in Mongolia, Dierkes says, that the country's relatively close relationship could be valuable in its dealings with other regional powers. 

Elbegdorj probably expected to meet with Kim on his visit. But then for some reason, Kim declined. Perhaps he's saving up for a higher profile target, like a (highly improbable) meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, or an even unlikelier phone call from U.S. President Barack Obama -- which Dennis Rodman, who has met with Kim twice, says the leader wants. Kim's father, the reclusive President Kim Jong I, met with world leaders including then South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun and Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others. Kim's grandfather, the gregarious President Kim Il Sung, met with dozens of world leaders during his 45 years in power.

But Kim appears to be the only serving head of state to never have met with another foreign leader. Mullah Omar, the titular leader of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, doesn't seem to have met with any foreign heads of state while in office, either --but I can't think of any other 20th century leaders who have done so.

Am I missing anyone? Let me know in the comments.


How 'The Walking Dead' Prepares China for the Zombie Apocalypse

It's spreading. The fourth season of The Walking Dead, a U.S. cable television hit about how to survive a post-apocalyptic, zombie-infested world, has found a massive audience in China. Since launching Dec. 2012 on Youku, China's YouTube, it's become the most-watched season of any Western television show on that platform, with over 27 million views and a user rating of 9.4 out of 10 stars. China's largest news agency Xinhua reported that as of Aug. 7, all episodes of the show had received a combined 250 million views in China across all video sites. The show's Chinese title, "Traveling Corpses, Walking Meat," (xingshi zourou) frequently trends on Weibo, China's Twitter, when a new episode becomes available.

Most Chinese-language reviews of The Walking Dead laud the show for its excellent acting and moving storylines. The Oriental Morning Post, a popular Shanghai-based daily, wrote on Nov. 1 that The Walking Dead "has gone beyond the boundaries of traditional zombie shows," tackling questions about "how human nature and society change in extreme conditions."

The show is especially attractive to Chinese fans because there's no domestic equivalent on cable television. China lacks a ratings system for film or television, so shows with more violent content are rarer. Authorities have banned some television shows for being too violent for any viewer, and on Oct. 13, China Central Television, the state-run television network that often acts as a mouthpiece for government authorities, criticized the popular children's cartoon Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf [sic] for excessive violence and adult language. With squeamish censors still worried about cartoon violence, a Chinese show featuring zombie gore stands little chance of getting produced.

China's morbid fascination with the apocalypse is another likely factor driving The Walking Dead's popularity. According to a May 2012 survey conducted by the global market research firm Ipsos, 20 percent of Chinese respondents said they believed that the world would end Dec. 21, 2012, compared to 12 percent of U.S. citizens and 4 percent of Germans. In Dec. 2012, a user on book and movie review site Douban wrote a short take-off of Max Brooks' tongue-in-cheek book The Zombie Survival Guide that accounted for China's "special characteristics." These included a lack of weapons (Chinese citizens are banned from carrying guns), a huge population, and environmental pollution.

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, populous China would likely have it rougher than the United States. But with shows like The Walking Dead, at least both nations have a basic roadmap. 

Sina Weibo/Fair Use