Clapton Playing North Korea?

Among the recent trove of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks is a May 2007 message from the U.S. ambassador in South Korea to Washington in which it was revealed that North Korean officials had “suggested” that a performance by Eric Clapton in the hermit kingdom would be “an opportunity to build goodwill” between the two countries.

“Arranging an Eric Clapton concert in Pyongyang … could be useful,” the ambassador adds, “given Kim Jong-Il’s second son’s devotion to the rock legend.”

As mentioned by the UK newspaper the Guardian, which reported on the cable, Western rock and pop music are forbidden in North Korea. However, the paper goes on to report that the gambit seemed to have worked, at least for a short time. At one point, Clapton agreed “in principle” to perform in North Korea sometime in 2009.

At the time, a North Korean official characterized upcoming exchange concerts between the New York Philharmonic and the North Korean State Symphony as “a way of promoting understanding between countries.”

Those concerts took place, but the Clapton shows stalled.

The guitarist now says, through a representative, that he never agreed to take part.

“He received numerous offers to play in countries around the world,” said the spokesperson, and “there is no agreement whatsoever for him to play in North Korea.”

It is well known in Japan and South Korea that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il’s second son, Kim Jong-chol, is enamored of Clapton and may have attended his concerts in the West.

Despite the seeming tolerance for this sort of fandom indicated in the cable, there has been some discussion in the Japanese media that Jong-chol’s obsession with classic rock disqualified him for succession to his father’s position, which has been reserved for Kim Jong-Il’s third son.