How a mild-mannered Canadian became friends with Kim Jong Un and got up close to North Korea's military parade

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. Photo: STR/ AFP/ Getty Images.
  • A Canadian man has managed to become friendly with Kim Jong Un and some of North Korea’s highest-ranking government officials.
  • Michael Spavor says he also helped organise one of Dennis Rodman’s trips to North Korea.
  • He evidently gets unique access to North Korea’s military parades and showcased some up-close video of the one this week.

While only a handful of Westerners can say they are welcomed into North Korea regularly, Michael Spavor appears to move around the restrictive country freely.

Spavor, a Canadian national who runs a nonprofit that offers trips to North Korea, even says he’s friendly with high-level members of the North Korean government, including the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

While many foreign media outlets were barred from North Korea’s military parade on Thursday, Spavor was somehow front and center, streaming an unfiltered view of the tanks and missiles that rolled by.

Spavor became infatuated with North Korea during a trip to Seoul in the late 1990s, according to a 2013 profile in Maclean’s, a Canadian magazine. The reporter, Nicholas Kohler, described him as “an affable, mild-mannered type” who was “not what you’d expect from an emissary to North Korea.”

Spavor eventually went to live in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, for six months in 2005, working as a teacher at a school affiliated with a Canadian nongovernmental organisation, the magazine reported.

Since 2005, he has been in and out of the country so many times that he now speaks the North Korean dialect fluently – so much so that he sometimes fools people on the phone, he told Maclean’s.

He also ran a school in Yanji, a Chinese city close to the North Korean border.

Spavor says he helped Dennis Rodman, the former Chicago Bulls star turned self-styled diplomat, get back into North Korea in 2013 after his trip there with Vice News.

Spavor went with Rodman, Chris Volo, a mixed martial arts fighter, and Joseph Terwilliger, a geneticist at the Columbia University Medical Center, into the country, where they spent time with Kim at his seaside estate.

Though Kim “is portrayed as serious” in the media, Spavor told Maclean’s, they “were able to see a more charismatic, friendly side to him. He has a good sense of humour.”

He echoed these remarks in an interview with The Washington Post last year, describing Kim as confident and well-spoken.

“He was acting very diplomatically and professionally,” Spavor said. “He felt old beyond his years. He could be serious at times and fun at times but by no means did he seem weird or odd.”

Spavor runs Paektu Cultural Exchange, a Canadian nonprofit that promotes business and cultural ties with North Korea. Its website touts an “extensive network of contacts” within North Korea and says Spavor has “high-level contacts with government ministries and organisations” throughout the country.

Spavor posted videos on his Twitter account of this week’s military parade in North Korea:

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