I love Slate and read it on a daily basis, I've recommended it to friends looking for a good news read and to Chinese colleagues who want to get an understanding of the US. While they make up catchy headlines and pictures that would cause one who didn't read the article to suspect that Chinese shoe companies had some kind of endorsement deal with Kim Jung Il, they should have spent more time on the facts.
An interesting article could be written on Chinese shoe company endorsement deals. Li Ning has led the way and served as a model for the other brans. Knowing they could never sign one of the big names (or at least suspecting so at the time), they couldn't get Lebron, but they could put his teammate, Damon Jones, in Li Ning sneakers, getting them some attention whenever the Cavs are on tv in China (which is a common occurrence). Since then, they've gone after Yao Ming's teammates (and other Chinese companies have followed) and also signed a deal with the NBA, ATP, and the biggest of all, with Shaquille O'Neil. As the Slate article rightly points out, they failed to win the bid to deck out the Chinese Olympic team on the medal stand for the first time in as long as I can remember so instead have signed a deal with CCTV-5, the sports station and the station the Olympics will be televised on, by which all of their presenters always wear Li Ning gear when on the air.
While its a good article overall and gets some exposure for Li Ning, a favorite brand of mine and one I've previously blogged about, the attacks on them for sponsoring Sudan and another Chinese company for their deal with North Korea are simply idiotic. I'm sure that neither country's athletes were previously going naked and I'm pretty sure they weren't wearing domestically made sports attire. I know for sure that North Korean soccer had a deal previously with Adidas and then (and perhaps still) with the Danish company, Hummel, yet there is no calling into question those companies (or countries).
I don't like the argument "well, they did it so we can too," but it just seems unfair in an article that will probably serve as Americans first introduction to these companies and an overall positive one to bring in politics and question the sponsorship policies of these companies with no mention that European companies are at the same time (or recently) sponsoring these same questionable regimes. The Olympics being in Beijing and captivating the entire nation, it makes sense that Chinese companies will want to do whatever they can, sign as many deals as they can to get their products into the limelight. It must also be said that these countries don't have the same negative image among China's overtly apethetic "me generation," the ones most likely to be buying gym shoes, that they do in the West.