INCHEON, South Korea (AP) — The Asian Games appear to have been a godsend for North Korea.
As the 16-day games in the South Korean city of Incheon wind down, the North's media is churning out daily stories on how the performance of the country's athletes has created a "jubilant" mood in Pyongyang and elated the isolated and inward-looking nation.
Inspired by their athletes, factory workers are vowing to make the looms of Pyongyang spin faster than ever, coal miners are promising to dig deeper, and even the quality of research papers at the Sinuiju University of Light Industry is bound to get better — if, that is, the delighted citizens of North Korea being trotted out daily for comment in state media are to be believed.
While foreign media have been abuzz over rumors that the absence of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from the public eye over the past few weeks might indicate he is ill or something more mysterious is afoot, the games have provided the perfect opportunity for the North to show off athletes and officials espousing their devotion to him and their love for the homeland.
That message has been passed by the South Korean media to their domestic audience, and reported to the world by the international media. On the home front, meanwhile, the North has portrayed its athletes as role models exhorting their compatriots to work ever harder.
"The members of my work team will work harder to boost the fabric production for the country and people as the footballers have done," an article quoted Song Kyong Hui, the head of a work team at the Kim Jong Suk Pyongyang Textile Mill, as gushing after she heard the North Korean women would be playing in Wednesday's football final.
As predicted in another story, the women won the gold, defeating Japan 3-1, and the North Korea men were set to play South Korea for the men's gold on Thursday.
But while touting their own victories, North Korea's coverage of the games has made virtually no mention of the other 44 countries participating, the fact that South Korea trails only China in medals won, and has far more than the North, or, more politically tricky, the setting of the games south of the Demilitarized Zone.
In sharp contrast, the South's media, while duly reporting the results of each event and heralding their own team's achievements, have been quick to find fault with the Incheon organizers, and to lament how the games have failed to generate much interest, let alone inspire their nation.
In particular, they have pointed out that empty seats — never a problem at major televised events in the North — have been visible in almost every games venue.
But they have also noted another reason why Pyongyang might want to dance with joy — South Korea's taxpayers may well end up footing the bill for the North's propaganda coup.
According to South Korea's Yonhap news, Seoul is prepared to pay as much as 1 billion won ($940,000) to cover the North's rental of satellite broadcast equipment, worth around 400 million won, and the cost of their delegation's stay at the athletes' village.
Seoul paid most of the North's bills when it sent a delegation to the 2002 Asian Games in the South Korean city of Busan as well.