Kim Jong Un recently received an honorary degree from a Malaysian university. In economics. Seriously.
Needless to say, this gaffe has generated some fallout for the small private Malaysian institution, HELP University, that did the honors. As it should. HELP University has billed itself as a “University for Achievers,” and if there is anyone in the world with a deficit of achievements–besides bloodline–it is Kim Jong Un. HELP University also claims to provide an education geared toward Peace and Prosperity. Its founder wrote the following in his explanation of the honorary degree:
“So, I extend our mission to create the platform: ‘Education for Peace and Prosperity’. All of us, regardless of our station in life, and wherever we come from, should use our talents and time to build human capacity and capability using educational means. This is the only acceptable way to change societies to help them become open minded, fair minded, and have high self-esteem to pursue a life of meaning — whether it is about life, liberty and happiness or equality.
In addition to North Korea’s disastrous economic performance, peace does not immediately come to mind either, let alone the building of human capacity and capability or life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Paul Chan, the founder of the university, is not completely naive and offers a defense of his actions as a way of building bridges to North Korea; he argues that within several years, the country will open up and he will be seen as ahead of the curve. He appears to be doing one thing that we heartily endorse: to extend educational opportunities to North Koreans.
We certainly hope that the DPRK takes up this opportunity. But conferring honorary degrees–and in economics no less–is precisely the kind of engagement which has the direct opposite effect intended: to validate an international status for Kim Jong Un–and in a particular area of human endeavor–to which he has absolutely no right.