Emerging Chinese Narratives in the Sino-Korean Border Zone // 环球广播的中朝边区报道

The Korean border news narrative of the Chinese Communist Party seems to be changing in some subtle and perhaps fundamental ways.  As Michael Rank first pointed out on North Korea Economy Watch, the Huanqiu Shibao is now reporting on security problems with North Korean refugees along the Tumen River, and doing so in a relatively aggressive manner:

A Chinese report has highlighted how villagers on the North Korean border live in fear of desperate North Korean refugees who rob and steal from them.

The villagers have launched a new internet monitoring system to guard against the refugees who frequently escape across the Tumen river, according to the Chinese-language report.

Inhabitants of Sanhe, near the town of Longjing in Jilin province, were in constant fear of “illegal border-crossers who would rob, steal and cause disturbances” until, in cooperation with the police, they installed an alarm system to warn each other of possible infiltrators. [...]

The Sanhe area, which covers 182 sq km, has only 1,600 inhabitants, 90% of whom are ethnic Korean, and most young people have left the area to seek work elsewhere, including South Korea and Japan. (A separate report shows photos of another border village, Nanping near Helong, which has similarly been blighted by young people leaving the area. Only 1,700 people still live there out of an original population of 4,000, while the primary school has five teachers and only three children).

“This journalist walked around [Sanhe] for over 10 minutes and only saw old people, women and children. But the Sanhe area faces danger from across the river,” the report says.

To illustrate the threat posed by refugees, it tells how in spring 2003 a North Korean woman in her 70s and her son in his 40s were killed in a border incident in Sanhe, and also mentions how in 2004, after the red light system had been installed, villagers seized a North Korean border guard who had crossed the river and begged for food from a farmer who had just slaughtered some animals.

The report says the river is only 50 metres wide at Sanhe and is shallow enough to be crossed by children.

It notes that borders “are not only a geographical concept, but also involve extremely complex [matters of] security and struggle.”

The police chief said that after the monitoring system was launched, “there have basically been no more cases of illegal border-crossers entering the village to take part in illegal activities.” However, he added, “But border security must not be relaxed because ordinary people are the most direct victims” [if it were relaxed].

A separate group of photographs illustrates the Huanqiu narrative.

Obviously, this emergence of a heightened Chinese public narrative of upping border security against dangerous North Koreans in the inner Tumen valley occurred precisely at the same time the PRC was launching some very ambitious-sounding economic projects with North Korea on the bookends of the border region.

It seems evident that the CCP, perhaps fearful of resentment at the large amounts of largesse being thrown at North Korea, is hedging its bets and giving itself rhetorical space in the border region.  As is usual these days, the emphasis is on security.  (The headline praises the ‘ten household system’ whereby villagers team up to report suspicious behavior.)

The Party media’s open acknowledgement of problems posed by North Korean refugees into China is, of course, about fifteen years overdue, and includes no discussion about the reasons for North Korean flight into China, but it is notable nevertheless.  The narrative of smooth and harmonious domestic “social management” trumps the need to save face for North Korea.

One of the most interesting aspects of the above story is how the Huanqiu Shibao itself becomes part of the story, and how the Xinhua apparatus is promoting this story as an example of hard-hitting, verismo, serve-the-people journalism:

Part of what we have here is the trope that the Party is able to correct itself.  As the (somewhat ficticious and certainly disposable in the event of martial law) narrative goes in China, the news media and the internet serves the vital function of hearing the voices of the people.  Patriotic reporters are a key piece of this narrative.

Cheng Gang is one of those writers, and he is presently Huanqiu Shibao‘s top borderlands reporter.  Last December he made a foray into the Rajin special economic zone, a visit which brought to light a few interesting facts which, to my knowledge, this blog remains the only English-language outlet to have acknowledged or covered.

(As a side note, it remains simply astonishing how many otherwise critical reporters and bloggers will believe basically unsourced allegations stemming from Chosun Ilbo that Chinese troops were occupying Rajin, and then, when Cheng Gang emerges as an actual source from Rajin emerges, totally miss the boat.  Does Xinhua have to translate it into mangled English in order for a reportable event to have actually occurred?  This is why, in addition to actually reading the Chinese media, one has to read German media about China, because German reporters, unlike, apparently, most Anglophone reporters other than Michael Rank, read and cite the Huanqiu Shibao.  Yes, the periodical is owned and run by the People’s Daily, but it also has a swarm of reporters who are occasionally allowed to extend the boundaries of discourse so long as the extension serves the national interest of the PRC.)

How do we know Cheng Gang is patriotic?  Besides regularly reading his stuff?

This 15-minute Huanqiu TV reportage from the borderlands is led by Cheng Gang, and it is not to be missed.  An absolutely classic revolutionary-era cutaway technique is used at the Sanjiaohe border post near Hunchun, where there is a flashback to the evil days of imperialism when China ceded its northern Pacific coastline to the Tsars.

The Chinese access to Rajin thus becomes swallowed into the much more capacious narrative of national revival and restoration, and is not bound by nattering contemporary concerns such as UN Security Council Resolution 1874 which was intended to punish North Korea economically.  In other words, the CCP is Li Hongzhang, and anyone who stands in the way of China assuming its rightfully central and monolithic role in East Asia is, well, Kaiser Wilhelm II, or a Romanov, whichever you prefer.

Along the lines of a renewed central push for reporting from the border region, a cluster of Huanqiu sources for your edification:

Cheng Gang’s June 10 dispatch from Rajin

- Huanqiu’s reference to a North Korean blueprint for economic opening up until 2020

- A back-door acknowledgement that right across the Tumen River in the city of Musan that there is “Asia’s largest iron ore mine” from which Chinese companies might profit

- A back-door complaint that Hyeryong is the source of the refugees that disturb security in Chinese border towns

- A gallery and update from the Hwanggumphyong zone near Sinuiju

- More details on Yalu River border security in historical context

Reference Material:

Adam Cathcart, “Leasing of North Korean Port Arouses Suspicion”: Huanqiu Shibao on China’s Ten-Year Lease on DPRK Rajin,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 11 March 2010.

Barbara Demick, “China Launches Economic Projects in North Korea,” Los Angeles Times, 10 June 2011.

Sino-North Korean Extravaganza at Rajin, June 9, 2011

Coda: DailyNK reports that DVDs of the moving “Crossing” are becoming popular in North Hamgyong province among the very population of struggling workers and DPRK citizens depicted in the film.  Fortunately for those of us living outside of the Sino-North Korean anti-YouTube Firewall, the film, and its “my-emotions-are-being-manipulated-but-I-love-it-anyway” soundtrack, is available.  This, by the way, is precisely the sympathetic narrative of North Korean refugees which we do not see in China — where the dystopian “social managment” of the DPRK drives men to run, and to work as yet another subsection in China’s floating population of Wanderarbeiter.

Scoping North Korea’s Emerging Trade Zones with China

This is what a Party looks like -- reminiscent, perhaps, of Pu Yi's heavily policed enthronement ceremony in February 1932 -- photo near Dandong, courtesy Al Jazeera news

Leaving the thrall of Hong Kong behind (and not even by boat!), I’ll be moving up into Dalian and the Liaodong peninsula for the next several days.  Not being a wealthy Chinese investor with a Hummer in Changchun, there’s no way I can make it to distant Rason, but I will certainly be spending some good time checking things out in Dandong and near the border trade zone which the North Koreans and the Chinese cadre announced this past week.

Thus, it’s more than appropriate to pose a framework kind of question that is going to drive my own research this week:  Is the Chinese Model Taking Hold in North Korea? 

Here, for your delectation, is some background reading and analysis.

I. On the Yalu Island Trade Zones: 黄金坪, etc.

This story is now all over the news wires, but if you need a good basic primer on the subject, I recommend this piece from the Chosun Ilbo  or the following article from a Korean reporter working for Al Jazeera.

Barbara Demick, the Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, wrote a perceptive piece on the subject from her office which is also well worth reading by way of introduction.

I would respectfully disagree with Demick that the Chinese were low-key about these developments.  Sure, the CCP could have gone double-barrel with its propaganda (there’s no mistaking when they do that — witness the orgiastic self-regard and millions of yuan spent on the Party’s 90th birthday coming up), but with Huanqiu Shibao headlines that describe the Yalu River developments as having the potential to become the “Hong Kong of DPRK”, it doesn’t strike me that the Chinese are in some way trying to hide what they’re doing.

On the other hand, if I’m banned from looking around the islands this week, then maybe they are trying to hide something.  I will keep this space posted as possible.

In North Korean media, KCNA is also bullish on the project, describing how the Sinuiju economic zone has been enlarged in a northeastern direction to include Uiju.  Joshua Stanton seems to have a lock on the analysis of how much of this area will be surrounded by barbed wire on the Korean side, so I will leave that to him.

One interesting (and perhaps predictable note) is how the North Koreans have been so careful to emphasize DPRK sovereignty in talking about this issue.  Besides the whole tensile strength of the trope in North Korean critiques of quisling states slathered in the rotten butter of sadaejuui or flunkeyism –
South Korea and Japan, both of whom are much more freaked about about Rason –why is this emphasis significant?

Recall, if you hadn’t yet passed out from the moutai or the pollen from all the floral bocquets, what Kim Jong Il said to Hu Jintao in his dinner-table speech:

[ http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201105/news27/20110527-31ee.html ]

The Chinese party and government are greatly contributing to rejecting high-handedness and dominationism and ensuring world peace and stability by pursuing a foreign policy sovereign and independent, under the banner of peace, development and cooperation.

There have been a few signs of disagreement.  For instance, KCNA plainly notes that is was “basically agreed to develop Hwanggumphyong by the joint efforts of the DPRK and China” Basically agreed?  Chosun Ilbo is way to the right of the Wall Street Journal (a paper which, to correct Aidan Foster-Carter in his brilliant essay on Kim Jong Il in China, is still to the left of Attila the Hun), and it loves to traffic in evil-communists-conspiring-behind-evil-doors kind of stories, but here it seems their assertion is correct: the ceremony for the island joint opening was likely delayed due to disagreements.

A lot of groundwork for this was done at the “14th Pyongyang Int’l Trade Fair,” which functioned as a networking gathering for more than 100 Sino-North Korean trade (贸易) officials [ http://kp.china-embassy.org/chn/zcgx/jmhz/t823934.htm ].

And as I’ll point out in a later post, the Chinese are fairly realistic about the limitations they are up against.  In holding up the positive example of a single Sino-North Korean joint venture, a bicycle manufacturer with offices in based in Tianjin, the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang admits that Chinese companies can’t even advertise in North Korea and end up giving away large percentages of their product.

II. The Case of Rason

The only logical place to start with this story, short of crossing the border at Hunchun, is to read Curtis Melvin’s excellent compilation of developing memes.

A few days ago, in hyping up interest in extreme northeast of the Korean peninsula in the port of Rajin/Sonbong (known as Rason) the Chinese Global Times tweeted “First China to N. Korea self-drive tour begins” [ http://bit.ly/mFe2Tf ], a fascinating story which had first appeared the day before on page 3 of the Huanqiu Shibao.  Chinese television coverage of this story in Changchun and the Rason border zone can be seen here.  Huanqiu had been doing propaganda preparation for this move since at least last October, if not before.

A (to my mind) rather significant story from last December in the Chinese Huanqiu Shibao in which a Chinese reporter goes to Rason and characterizes the situation for Chinese capitalists is translated/summarized in English.

Chinese BBS boards are hardly unanimous in their support for the efforts. If anything, Beijing has been somewhat tone deaf to international criticism of its economic cooperation with North Korea. 

Beijing’s moves in North Korean border zones have a bit of the pedagogical/patriarchal whiff, spiced w extraterritoriality, as in these 2008 photos of the “Harmony Cup,” Chinese diplomats golfing in Pyongyang.  The global image of PRC capitalists tied to the CCP isn’t currently particularly savory, and the North Koreans don’t have much love lost.  As Harper’s and The Economist picked up on in an essay I wrote back in 2009, there is quite a strong foundation for anti-Chinese sentiment in North Korea in the Works of the DPRK’s founding god, Kim Il Song.

There is much, much more to say about the geopolitics and regional meaning of the Chinese move into Rason, but I recommend this Chosun Ilbo article,

which prompted this almost gloating Huanqiu analysis of South Korean nervousness about the Rason project,

which is connected to this KCNA weigh-in on Chinese mining companies and Rason port,

which was followed by this significant analysis in KCNA about Chinese investment in Rason.

In discussing all of this action on Saturday with a colleague in Hong Kong who has spent two decades as a correspondent in China; he conveyed to me what he was hearing from all of his diplomat connections Beijing: “The North Koreans despise the Chinese,” he confirmed.

III.  Both sides are pairing friendly economic development with a renewed emphasis on border security

A few final points:

Everyone missed this, but Chinese border patrols were drilling with “anti-terrorist” machine guns near Dandong/Sinuiju and promising to shoot drug traffickers (photos)

June 4 is also the anniversary of a North Korean border guard shooting 3 Chinese near Dandong http://tinyurl.com/28hg8nq

And China is probably using drones in border areas [China Daily = http://bit.ly/jVMjgD  HT to quelquefois  


The keynote on security is emphasized in more subtly, historical ways.  Why else would the Huanqiu Shibao release a compilations of photos surrounding the explosive 1948 accusations of espionage against the top American diplomat in Shengyang, Angus Ward?

Reference Readings

North Korea Leadership Watch is back online with a post on Yalu River island joint ventures http://tinyurl.com/3sc33gd

Netizen reactions to Sino-NK border trade zone (sohu.com) http://club.comment3.news.sohu.com/m309696799.html

Relatively well-off North Koreans floating in the Yalu River -- note the wrist watches; photo courtesy Huanqiu Shibao, 2010

Chinese Reportage from Rajin, North Korea

Regarding the Korean peninsula, the Chinese media strategy of the past several days has been, perhaps, a bit opaque. But yesterday, clarity arrived!  The Huanqiu Shibao of December 23 makes rather evident the goal of the recent PRC encouragement of North Korea: just stop the nonsense and make some money.  In other words, the narrative emphasis in the PRC (a theme which the CCP dearly hopes will become self-fulfilling) thus becomes one in which North Korea notches down peninsular tensions (winning praise in Beijing) to concentrate on economic reform (winning cross-border contracts for Chinese companies).

Exhibit #1 is yesterday’s long dispatch from reporter Cheng Gang [程刚] from the Rajin Economic Zone, published in a full page 7 article in Huanqiu Shibao.  Entitled “Feeling the ‘Economic Fever’ in North Korea [在朝鲜感受’经济热’,” the piece, in spite of its minor complaints about North Korean quirks, functions as a call to invest in Rajin.

For those of you who like citations, it goes a little something like this:

程刚[Cheng Gang], “在朝鲜感受经济热’ / Zai Chaoxian shougan ‘jingji re’ / Feeling the ‘Economic Fever’ in North Korea],” Huanqiu Shibao [Global Times Chinese edition], December 23, 2010, p. 7.

[Translation/summary by Adam Cathcart]

The piece begins with an omniscient narrator (not the reporter’s voice) indicating the gravity of recent tensions on the peninsula.  Then, however, noting Cheng’s multiple visits to and interviews in the DPRK in 2010, the piece turns to what it calls a possible “hopeful point: economic development and investment.  Within this big and closed country of North Korea, where foreign policy is strongly military in emphasis, given no relaxation by the United States of its difficult external environment, such [development] is even more logical.”

Cheng, we are told, travelled to Rajin earlier this month, indicating that the story was – like so many good stories in state media – held in reserve to be released after North Korea did something reasonably logical.  People, in other words, with whom we can work.

“Can Rajin Become ‘the North Korean Shenzhen?”

In contrast to the tense situation in the West Sea (Yellow Sea), the northeastern maritime border of the DPRK, the article asserts, Rajin appears to be“ a place where the opening of the national gates to development economic activity side gives a person the feeling that North Korea is really moving in this direction [当地在打开国门开发经济方面的动作让人感到朝鲜真的行动起来了].”

Our intrepid reporter Cheng Gang proceeds crosses over the Tumen River some 60 km east of Yanji city, at the border point of Quanhe, and is processed at a North Korean checkpoint on the other side.  Then something happens which really tells you something a.) about North Korea’s atrocious media strategy, or, if you prefer b.) about China’s inability to have a truly “special/preferential” relationship with North Korea.  Welcoming a Chinese reporter for a major foreign affairs daily paper, whose visit has certainly been coordinated among the respective Foreign Ministries, the North Koreans proceed to take away his cell phone, his digital camera, and all of his electronics for safekeeping at the border.

Yes, this is standard for all visitors to the DPRK…

While Cheng notes that the procedure at the border goes quickly, he does not indicate if the road on the North Korean side of the bridge has in fact been paved.  (It was not paved the last time I was there in July 2009; the problem of Chinese building amazing infrastructure for bilateral trade on their side of the border and waiting, and waiting, and waiting for North Korea to match even partially their capacity, is dealt with in an extensive working paper by Carla Freeman.)

As he sits in the border station in the DPRK, Cheng has a conversation with an unnamed Yanbian businessman and a North Korean customs agent.  The Yanbian businessman notes that the North Korean side “will soon build a big customs house.”  I would put very little stock in this statement, but the fact that it is deemed worthy of being relayed is significant, as the purpose of this piece is to impart a sense of forward momentum on the northeastern border.

Now something more significant is relayed: the bridge 30 km away near the Russian  border is is under construction.  And work is already underway on the high-speed railway between Hunchun, the closest small city (beautifully sandwiched on Chinese territory in between North Korea and Russia) and Changchun.  As anyone knows who has been to the PRC of late, China is on a positive railroad binge, and it seems that North Korea is one of the 17 nations to which the high-speed rail network is ultimately destined to reach.

Does this plan for cross-border rail ties make anyone else think of a certain map in Bruce Cumings’ Origins of the Korean War, Volume I?   E.g., the process of integration of Northeast Asia, attempted but ultimately flubbed by the Japanese, seems now to have fallen to the Chinese to complete.  Chinese critiques of North Korea – a closed state recalcitrant toward the obvious need for modernization — are beginning to sound a bit like Meiji critiques of the Daehan?

Darkness and Light in Rajin

Noting that at the northern latitude, darkness falls early, Cheng recalls his visit to Rajin in spring of 2010, calling Rajin “a black city [黑城]” where no lights were on after dark.  Today the situation has changed and electricity appears to be more plentiful.  Depending on your point of view, the following sentence might be considered cause for hope, or just tragic:  “Someone said that now there is a new point of view among the locals in which businesses open at night should have their lights on.”  “Of course,” Cheng continues, “this has something to do with the local government’s special policy; inside of North Korea an electrical plant exclusively supplies Rajin.”

(Here two parenthetical comments may be apropos.  The first is by way of contrast: Last year Hyesan, a major city perched up against the Yalu River, had, by my count, at least 45 lights on after dark, not including the huge spotlights on the iconic “Battle of Pochonbo” monument, which is to say that not every city was totally without light at night, but that even in major cities electricity was hard to come by.  Secondly, in picking up G.W. Bush’s memoir one learns that he needed to be given Defense Department satellite photos of the Korean peninsula at night to understand how parsimonious the DPRK was with its electricity usage.  The rest of us who pay even glancing attention to North Korea have seen and heard about similar images time and again; it is testimony to Don Rumsfeld’s grip on the former President’s cranium that he would give the man photos that basically anyone could download online and blow his mind that way.)

The next section of the Huanqiu Shibao piece is clearly meant to reassure Chinese investors of how easy the process can be for working in North Korea.  “Rajin’s Department for Economic Cooperation very closely resembles China’s local government Departments and Committees for Foreign Investment,” Cheng writes.  Moreover, says Cheng, a Yanji city construction company “has many projects in North Korea, and has been working here for more than 20 years.”  According to Cheng’s interview with an anonymous high-ranking manager in this company, Rajin “has basically agreed to allow foreign companies to build factories in Rajin,” and the rights to export goods directly from Rajin.  Chinese companies have benefit from the “great clarity” of Rajin’s (again nameless) economic leaders, and now there are about 4000 Chinese businessmen working (though not, it seems, continuously?) in the special economic zone.

Sitting at night in a restaurant opened by a North Korean of Japanese ancestry, Cheng hears that Rajin has essentially been elevated to provincial status by the leaders in Pyongyang, that “high-ranking Secretaries have come from Pyongyang” and that many departments from Pyongyang have sent delegates, that multilingual university graduates have been sent to Rajin to become the new leaders in overseas trade.

By day, Cheng observes, more changes in Rajin become evident.  A great deal of what were once single-story buildings have now been razed: the ubiquitous Chinese character for destroy (“chai”) is here applied to North Korea.  Trusting that this will become the site of nine new factories, Cheng pronounces this as a sign of forward motion.  Yes indeed, to a Chinese reporter, when a field once full of people and small buildings looks like a moonscape, progress is arriving.

Invest in Rajin: The Korean People’s Army Will Not Shoot You

Cheng goes on to describe “the deepest change of all: soldiers and military vehicles, unlike in other North Korean cities, are seldom seen, particularly soldiers carrying guns.”  In the aftermath of the KPA border shooting of three cross-border (illegal) traders near Dandong this past summer, and given the knowledge of the KPA shooting of a South Korean tourist at a beach near Mt. Kumgang in the prior summer, this statement isn’t without its uses.  “According to my understanding,” says Cheng, “Rajin has gotten a large number of soldiers and other special agents [特别部门] to adjust and go back to their cities, so that a more unified foreign investment can be made.”  (Feel free to quibble with me on “special agents,” I take the phrase to imply to a Chinese audience that they will be spied on less in Rajin than they might otherwise have been before; for use of a similar phrase [特种部队] to connote North Korean special agents going to kill Park Chung Hee in 1968, see the December 23 2010 Nanfang Zhoumou, p. B11).

Later in the article, Cheng goes on to explain that everywhere he goes outside of Rajin, including the outskirts of Pyongyang, he sees soldiers drilling, including doing target practice.  On a tour of Kaesong and the DMZ on a weekend, he notices a large number of KPA (Korean People’s Army / inmingun) relaxing and walking around.  He asks his guide, Ms. Choi, about the military drills: she notes that everyone still wants to marry a solider then says that ever since the late 1990s and the implementation of Kim Jong Il’s ‘military-first’ policy, things have been this way.  When a state of war is normalized, recent flare-ups such as the Yeonpyeong Island incident may not stir North Korean public much at all, filled as it is with soldiers all the time anyway.  Rendering Rajin particularly unique.

Since it might lead readers to recall the failure of the planned “special economic zone” in Sinuiju, that city is almost entirely omitted from the article, but Cheng’s wild train ride from Sinuiju to Pyongyang is recalled in detail.

Assassin Disinformation: Western and Chinese Media Parse the Defectors

In case you hadn’t heard, two North Korean assassins were recently apprehended in South Korea on a mission to kill Hwang Jang Yop, the grizzled 87-year-old architect of the juche philosophy who defected — via Beijing — to Seoul in 1997.

This assassination attempt is kind of a big deal because — apart from the cinematic revelations that the two were instructed to cut off Hwang’s head, then jump off of a skyscraper — it indicates that North Korea remains as militant and unpredictable as ever.  It also argues, implicitly, that domestic turmoil and succession maneuvering is likely to lead to more international provocations rather than a conciliatory attitude in Pyongyang.  If in fact Selig Harrison is right that there is some kind of “peace faction” within the Korean Workers’ Party, he (or you and I) would be hard pressed to identify in just what bunker, freezer, or gulag it is arguing in at present.

Now, fueled by a single unsourced, unsubstantiated, and now unavailable (except via this cache) sentence fragment in a JoongAng Ilbo report on the assassins, influential rollback bloggers are thus able to unleash the assertions about China having “provided training” to the assassins.  I am referring, of course, to the voluble Mr. Stanton:

The assassins were trained in the Peoples’ Republic of China, which has long tolerated the presence of North Korean spies on its soil. Frankly, that may be the most sensational part of this entire story; after all, North Korea has assassinated people on South Korean soil before. I can’t foresee much support in Washington for the idea of listing China as a state sponsor of terrorism, but I certainly hope — this being an election year and all — that some members of Congress will hold hearings and ask the Congressional Research Service to investigate the question of what the Chinese government knew about the training and the plot. At a minimum, China’s support for the North Korean intelligence services is a crime against humanity, and China ought to pay a much higher price for it.


Why would China want to aid North Korea in killing Hwang Jang Yop, the guy who needed Chinese help to get out of the DPRK in the first place?  How could it possibly serve China’s interests to be complicit, or to be merely perceived as complicit, with an assassination mission by North Korean agents into South Korea?  If there is any argument to be made for how China would benefit from this scenario, I would love to hear it.  Particularly when the master narrative in the PRC is tending toward the need for ethnic unity and, most of all, the presumptive triumph of the Shanghai Expo, the CCP has no need and no desire to indulge in this kind of affair that smacks of 1968 radicalism.

North Korean and Chinese security agencies certainly cooperate in sporadic fashion in the northern border region; that’s obvious.  But the idea of two North Korean agents moving into the PRC with Chinese aid, and then “training” (presumably in the Northeast) for a couple of months under Chinese supervision is almost comical.  Do North Korean assassins really need coaching from Chinese counterparts?  Now that would be a horrible admission of sadaejuui, or flunkeyism, toward China on North Korea’s part.  In short, it’s a crock.

Juchechosunmanse may not be as prolific as Joshua Stanton, but at least he evidences an actual concern for the facts as far as the China link in this story is concerned:

That Joongang article simply mentions “trained in China” without providing any details. Chosun Ilbo had a better account of the alleged activities of the two:

“Kim and Tong arrived in Yanji in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in the Chinese province of Jilin after crossing the North Korea-China border in November last year. They met up with other North Korean agents and received mobile phones and operational funds at a liaison office of the Reconnaissance Bureau there.”

Apparently there are known NK intelligence agencies located in China. I too, wonder how much the Chinese government knows about it. I don’t think they are very pleased.

And they are not interested in seeing the thread of this story continue to a point where China enters the crosshairs, as, absent proof of Chinese encouragement or complicity, it shouldn’t be.   Thus, they change the subject.  North Korea stories in the mainland press this week are focusing on cultural cooperation in the form of opera, talking about South Korean island claims against infernal Japan, pumping up tourism in Hunchun (“see three countries with one glance!”), and painting glowing portrayals of Yanji as the “foremost home of Koreans in China.”

At this point there isn’t much point in translating the Chinese versions of the Hwang Jang Yop-targeted-by-false-defectors story, but I will note that the related Xinhua-vetted stories, of course, omit the mention of China as a transit point for the North Korean assassins.  They do, however, use phrases like “North Korean agents” which are bound to raise hackles in Beijing and elsewhere, particularly the Northeast, where ethnic Koreans have enough problems in addition to being saddled with additional suspicions of North Korean agents moving among them.  In some ways, the “osmotic” penetration of Manchuria with poor migrants from the Korean peninsula is a type of continuity from the 1930s, but now the sponsoring government isn’t imperial Japanese, it’s imperial North Korean.  (Thanks for the framework, B.R. Myers, I’ll quibble with it later.)

But wait!  A genius op-ed contributor to the New York Times has a better idea!

Central Asia, Mongolia, the Russian Far East and Southeast Asia are natural zones of Chinese influence. But they are also zones whose political borders are not likely to change. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is different. No one really expects China to annex any part of the Korean Peninsula, of course, But although it supports Kim Jong-il’s Stalinist regime, it has plans for the peninsula beyond his reign. Beijing would like to eventually dispatch there the thousands of North Korean defectors who now are in China so that they could build a favorable political base for Beijing’s gradual economic takeover of the region.

Talk about a misguided paragraph.  Robert Kaplan is indeed a great world traveler and an intrepid Verbundler of knowledge, but his comparative instincts here are just dead wrong.  Just read a handful of testimonies from North Korean defectors, and you can see that they are neither interested in collaborating with DPRK state security nor furthering the aims of the Chinese state.  The idea that North Korean defectors are sitting around and openly taking classes with mentors at business schools all over Northeast China is as beautiful as it is false.  (Kaplan avoids being branded with my “horseshit essay of the week” award only because this Foreign Policy piece cloaks some academic bromides in useless anonymity and likens the North Korean leadership, yes, to a clique of American high school jocks.)

Everyone has an axe to grind with China, or a point they desperately need to make via enlisting China.  For Tom “I Just Had a Thought About Globalization at My Golf Lesson” Friedman, it’s about using China’s awesome example to kick American readers in the pants to get busy mobilizing to study foreign languages and produce green technologies.   (Fortunately for Friedman, he can foist the need to learn Chinese off on his kids, rather than study the language himself.  What self-respecting adult has time for that kind of crap anyway?)  For Joshua Stanton, it’s about reminding you – over and over and over again – that China is unquestionably  complicit with North Korean human rights abuses and, therefore, a rogue nation deserving of sanction.  Why try to understand the Chinese discourse on North Korea, sense the shifts in the PRC’s emphasis in how it talks about the DPRK, probe at the metaphorical gum tissue in the “lips and teeth alliance”, or highlight an emerging consensus?  And for Robert Kaplan, it’s about reminding you that he’s traveled pretty much everywhere and therefore has the right to make grand pronouncements — which are usually meant to be sniffed all the way up to some cash register — about the Chinese periphery.

Chinese-North Korean border post south of Hunchun, Jilin province -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Korea in the Huanqiu Shibao

Today’s array of data on the Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times page is simply overwhelming; a brief selection of links with minimal commentary shall have to suffice:

On the North Korean Front

Probably the most explosive item being reported today in the Chinese press is the alleged execution of two officials in a Pyongyang stadium for botched currency reforms. The article is rather short, and voices things so that it’s clear the reports are coming from the South Korean sources like Chosun Ilbo and the website Daily NK:

环球网记者宋伟钢报道 据韩国《朝鲜日报》4月5日援引韩国专门对朝媒体daily NK网站报道称,因货币改革失败,朝鲜处决了包括前财政部长朴南基在内的两名高级官员,之前媒体报道称只有一位官员被处决,并且没有报道处决的时间和地点。

Daily NK报道称,两名朝鲜官员3月12日在平壤的西山体育场在一些经济官员和朝鲜中央党员面前被枪决。这两名被处决的官员是前朝鲜财政部长朴南基和另外一位未透露姓名的朝鲜国家计划委员会副委员长。

Huanqiu is censoring a few comments, but letting netizens vent their skepticism at the news in the comments, censoring a share of presumed criticisms of Kim Jong Il, but the cat is out of the bag in any case.  I think that this news being reported in China is particularly interesting/important given the sensitive timing of Kim’s pending/non-visit to Beijing, and that China seems to have been somewhat transparently piqued at the abrupt currency reform in any case.

After an unexplained absence, the paper’s “border region news page,” wherein Sino-DPRK and Sino-India security news reigns, is back in full swing.

An extended article on investment in the areas around Hunchun-Rajin;

A long article, also a sleeper, via Chinese Financial Times, on travel in the border regions;

More breakdown on the contractual issues of the new Chinese 10-year lease on part of North Korea’s port of Rajin, featuring some analysis by Scott Snyder;

Huanqiu promotes “Radio Open Korea” reports on Pyongyang’s foreign-exchange gains in sending laborers abroad;

A very long feature on Yalu River development and how the special economic zone outside of Sinuiju is projected to operate, a piece which is nicely paired with this feel-good article promoting North Korean waitresses in Dandong.

Finally, there is this insouciant photo gallery of French first lady Carla Bruni on a Top Gun mission (she who has been far too long neglected on this blog) and a priceless look at a protest in South Korea whose demands are simple: keep our hanja education!

“Leasing of North Korean Port Arouses Suspicion”: Huanqiu Shibao on China’s Ten-Year Lease on DPRK Rajin

张培 , et. al., “租借朝鲜港口遭猜忌 韩媒称中国正加速进入日本海,” 环球时报“ 3月10日2010年 [Zhang Pei, et. al., “Leasing of North Korean Port Arouses Suspicion: South Korean Media States that China Will Quickly Enter the Sea of Japan,” Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times Chinese) March 10 2010 [translation by Adam Cathcart].

据3月10日出版的《环球时报》报道,“中国100多年来首次在日本海拥有直接立足点”、“中国开辟日本海通道”,9日,中国租借朝鲜罗津港的消息迅速 使外电得出上述轰动性的结论,中国人对此将信将疑。韩国《世界日报》报道称,中国政府正在加速进入日本海,但中国进入日本海的通道一直被俄罗斯和朝鲜堵 住,因而进入日本海是中国的一个历史夙愿。On March 10, “Global Times” reported: “For the first time in 100 years, China has a direct foothold on the Sea of Japan” and “China has opened a channel to the Sea of Japan.  On March 9, news quickly spread that China had leased North Korea’s Rajin port, prompting foreign media to rash and sensational conclusions toward which the Chinese people have skepticism. A report by South Korea’s “World News” stated that the Chinese government is accelerating its entry into the Sea of Japan.  But [what South Korean media fails to understand is that] China’s passage to the Sea of Japan has long been blocked [堵] by Russia and North Korea, and therefore passage to the Sea of Japan is a long-cherished wish in China’s history.

《世界日报》介绍说,清朝因1858年同沙俄签订的《瑗珲条约》、1860年的《北京条约》丧失了100万平方公里的土地,也丢掉了所有日本海沿岸的土地。 中华人民共和国成立后,中国政府一直强烈要求朝鲜和苏联赋予[fu4yu3] 中国从珲春到日本海的出海权,即所谓的“建港出海”战略,但遭遇[zao1yu4] 朝鲜和苏联看不见的牵制,苏联和朝鲜相互找借口拒绝中国的要求。The “World News” introduced [the subject] by saying that because of the Yuanhui Treaty signed between the Qing Dynastyand Tsarist Russia in 1858 and the 1860 “Beijing Treaty,” [China] lost 100 million square kilometers of land and lost all territory abutting the Sea of Japan.  After the founding of The People’s Republic of China, the Chinese government directly and strongly demanded that North Korea and the Soviet Union confer to China the right of access to the Sea of Japan from Hunchun.  This strategy, known as “harbor building and sea access,” encountered invisible impediments [看不见的牵制] from North Korea and the Soviet Union, who each found an excuse to reject China’s requests.

The article then goes on to describe the frustrations of trying to develop the port in 1993 and then describes some of the geographical advantages of now being able to export Chinese products from the North Korean harbor:


The penultimate sentence, however, is probably the most interesting:

《环球时报》记者前不久曾到过图们江口那片中国离日本海最近的地区,在那里,作为一个中国人,你能感到有些憋屈。 A “Global Times” reporter recently visited the region near the mouth of the Tumen River, the place where China comes closest to the Sea of Japan.  [Standing] there, as a Chinese person, you can choke a bit on the injustice .

Translator’s Notes: I actually rode with the same taxi driver (surnamed Tang; the man is also a stellar photographer) who drove the above-said “Global Times'” reporter down to Fangchuan last July.  The funny thing is, part of the reason the reporter went to Fangchuan was to talk to soldiers at the border post about the impacts of the North Korean nuclear test as well as the prospects for opening up to the Sea of Japan.  The other thing that comes to mind when one travels to Fangchuan (and its gateway Hunchun), both of which I went to in July, is how the shadow of Russia and the treaties of the mid-19th century really do bear down on China in this region and render North Korea into merely an adjunct or a bit player in a much larger drama.  The narrative of national redemption and restoration into which this article taps has a long pedigree and seeks, like many rhetorical and visual devices in China, to recreate the type of breakthrough of consciousness experienced by leaders of Zhou Enlai’s generation when they recognized China’s weakness.  For Zhou Enlai, it was standing on the battlefields of Liaoyang of the Russo-Japanese War, while for Lu Xun it was watching filmstrips of Japanese troops decapitating Chinese prisoners.  What is your moment of consciousness, Chinese?  Perhaps it could be found by traversing the North Korean frontier.  However, to get into the game of territorial reparations or the rectification of injustices along that frontier, is, after all, a dangerous and nigh-inextinguishable flame.  Who originally owned the islands, after all, upon which North Korea is now pledged to build a special economic zone near Dandong?  And who owns Mount Paektu?

Fortunately there is a catch-all solution in this case: blame the Japanese media for overreacting.

Hunchun's Trilingual Market Trifecta -- photo by Adam Cathcart; click picture for more of my photos of the tri-border region

Border News 中朝边防

North Koreans in border regions are doing more military drills than usual (click here for Chinese version), but so too are their counterparts on the Chinese side of the border.  In Hunchun, peasant militias are getting into gear:

via Huanqiu

In Dandong, everyone is making money and trying to get the North Koreans involved.

East Side of Dandong, moving the suburbs progressively along the Yalu -- via Dandong News Web

National news publications, not just the Embassy in Pyongyang, are reporting on the meetings between North Korean officials and Dandong city leaders, facilitated by outgoing Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming.  A number of long-studied infrastructure projects in Dandong seem poised for take off.  Dandong citizens review their recent tourist explorations of North Korea here

Even before Americans started walking across the Tumen on January 25 to join the KPA, China was reporting with photos on South Korean efforts to pressure North Korea on the human rights issue by dropping leaflets via balloons over the DMZ. 

Chinese netizens are reading the Chinese version of the DailyNK, and leaving some tough comments on the stories, especially this one that deals with Tim Peters’ recent dramatic demonstrations depicting KPA-PLA joint repression of refugees at the border. 

"朝鲜军人用脚去踹挣扎着的女人。表演." Note that the Chinese caption doesn't indicate PLA, but the netizens caught it anyway. via Daily NK

And, although it’s a bit embarassing for Kim Jong Il, Huanqiu headlines a gallery of a dozen “great secret tunnels of the world” with the North Korean tunnel under the DMZ, an ominous thing to be sure:

via Huanqiu Shibao

Borderland Updates 中朝边区的消息

Wangqing County Forestry Officials Discuss the Previous Year's Work, Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region - courtesy Wangqing County Gov.cn

1. Wangqing County government in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture brings you a fantastic image of how cadre spend a full afternoon.  Something tells me these guys didn’t get the “no smoking” memo. I recommend clicking on the picture and watching the facial expression of the cadre all the way at the right side of the table.  Isn’t he excited that the county is investing in new rural libraries whose bilingual books might end up in the hands of purchased North Korean wives, or that Dalian investors are tearing up the earth, or that his county was successful in rousting out North Korean defectors just before the 2008 Olympic triumph?

2. According to North Korean media, ethnic Koreans in China are getting mobilized to support Kim Jong Il:

Koreans in China Urged to Strive for Prosperity of Homeland

Pyongyang, January 14 (KCNA) — Choe Un Bok, chairperson of the General Association of Koreans in China, on Jan. 5 made public a statement titled “Let us more vigorously struggle for the prosperity and the independent reunification of our homeland under the Songun revolutionary leadership of respected General Secretary Kim Jong Il”

The statement noted with high appreciation that Kim Jong Il worked out grand plans and operations for bringing about a decisive phase in the Korean revolution and the building of a thriving nation by effecting a new great revolutionary surge and wisely led the efforts of the army and the people last year.

It is the shining fruition of his wise leadership that last year the people in the homeland achieved the great victory in defending socialism and building a thriving nation and wrought admirable miracles and innovations in different sectors of the national economy, weathering out the harsh tempest of history, it said.

The statement expressed the determination to closely rally the broad strata of Koreans in China around the association and vigorously arouse them to the patriotic drive for national reunification in keeping pace with the people in the homeland working hard to carry out the militant tasks laid down in the joint New Year editorial.

All Koreans in China will turn out as one in the struggle to resolutely smash the anti-DPRK and anti-reunification moves of the pro-U.S. conservative ruling forces of south Korea and achieve the independent reunification of the country by intensifying the struggle for peace against the U.S. and war, it said.

But, so far as I can ascertain, Yanbian news carries not a word about Choe’s speech or that meeting.  Instead, readers are wondering when Kim is going to get serious about turning his recent pronouncements about reform into action. Undeterred and oblivious, KCNA reports that ethnic Koreans in China will be celebrating Kim Jong Il’s birthday on Feb. 16 and implies that the same population is longing all day for Korean unification.  Are such news articles actually a way to annoy the CCP by needling at ethnic sensitivities?  Because, were I Wen Jiabao, I would find it a touch irksome.

3. China Plays Along with the Currency Revaluation after Reporting on Internal Chaos and Executions Due to the Same Policy: Via Huanqiu on Jan. 5 comes this positive report on how the currency reforms in North Korea have allegedly led to a rise in real wages among farmers and miners.  Such people buoyed by the new policies in the new year were said to have bought 500 carpets, televisions and clothing in state stores, according to the Pyongyang news outlet  (hosted in Japan), New Korea.

4. North Korea seeks Chinese tourists, like in these hot springs near Rajin/Sonbong.

5. South Korean students appear to be under closer watch than before in Yanbian. Last month, local cops rousted South Korean students from a “severely dangerous” Hunchun dormitory/hostel.  On the prextext of “fire safety,” local cops got in and searched around the gear of a group of ROK students in the Sino-Korean-Russian border city.  I wonder if they were looking for Bibles and Robert Park-style missionary manifestos.  These are the same cops who made North Korean anglers depressed (or perhaps excited?) by smashing 47 gambling machines in the city earlier this summer.

6. There are reports of sightings of a monster at the lake atop Mount Paektu/Changbaishan.

7. China is naming its new infrastructure projects in Yanji city after Korean landmarks.

Lake Cheonji/Tianchi Bridge, dedicated in late December 2009 in Yanji city, Yanbian

8. Yanbian City Courts prosecuted three pimps who had organized ten prostitutes.  No word is given to their ethnicity or nationality, but I wonder to what extent China is interested in breaking up these rings as a means of finding (and subsequently repatriating) North Korean refugee women.  While a great deal of Western writing implies that Yanji is completely crawling with North Korean prostitutes, I think the estimates are overblown.  Keeping an eye on stories like this one from Yanji can at least provide a sense of official response to the larger problem of which North Korean women are  a small but significant part.  Also, if China were interested in pressuring North Korea, provincial officials could engage in some kind of a massive anti-prostitution campaign (arguably needed anyway) in the Northeast and repatriate all of these women to the DPRK.

9. Kim Jong Suk continues to appear in North Korean news as a placebo for a host of present issues. Not only did she wait anonymously in line to vote in elections,we now learn that Kim Jong Il’s border-jumping mom was a patch farmer in 1946, according to this KCNA dispatch.  This kind of story serves to soften the sometimes arbitrary crackdowns on patch farming, or independent mountain-side farming in places like North Hamgyong in particular.  I am working on a short article about new sources on the period of the “construction of socialism/der Aufbau des Sozialismus” in the DPRK and Kim Jong-Suk plays a role in that manuscript.  More to the point here, she stands in for all North Koreans and has served a convenient function whenever an anecdote is necessary.

Finally, it is interesting, put probably not surprising, that on the Yanbian News Center’s international board, the stories about North Korea are far and away the highest hit counts.

10. The mighty Yalu River is freezing.

Walking Possible from Sinuiju? via Xinhua

Rumblings on the Tumen

China has approved, yet again, an international development zone in the Tumen Delta.  Global Times reports (in English), as does CCTV.

The Chinese government has approved a border development zone in the Tumen River Delta to boost cross-border cooperation in the Northeast Asian region, the provincial government of Jilin announced on Monday.

The information office of the government said the pilot zone covering 73,000 square kilometers involved the cities of Changchun and Jilin as well as the Tumen River area.

Han Changbin, governor of Jilin, said the Changchun-Jilin-Tumen pilot zone was China’s first border development zone.

It is expected to push forward cross-border cooperation in the Tumen River Delta.

Jilin Provincial Government set out this status report in July 2009,   and now the economic zone is front-page news in the overseas People’s Daily.  The unveiling seemed to start on November 16 with this meeting convened by the Jilin Provincial Governor, Han Zhangfu [韩长赋]  whose name with a different spelling might mean “Sweaty Husband” instead of “Han Who Is Well Endowed,” which it does!

In the meantime, everyone in Yanji is supposed to study how to develop the economy, stupid.

Although a large part of the impetus here is local and provincial, in a small way, this economic zone might be being announced during Obama’s visit to China as a way to reinforce Chinese independence on the North Korean front.  On the other hand, while the DPRK has a lot to gain from participating in such a zone, their harassment of Chinese businessmen at Rajin and failed attempts in the past don’t bode well.

But based on my own observations, Chinese business in Hunchun and Fangchuang is far, far more oriented toward Russia than the DPRK.  And more South Korean and Japanese companies setting up shop on the lip of North Hamgyong province will very likely be a good thing.

Click here for some very revealing Google Earth imagery of Hunchun, and to see where this economic zone is nestled in between North Korea, China, and Russia.

Advertisement for North Korean-Russian Goods near Hunchun, Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Border Crossing and North Korean customs house (with dirt road), North Hamgyong Province, DPRK -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Chinese technicians fixing North Korean trucks, Hunchun, Yanbian Automomous Prefecture, PRC -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Typical trilingual confusion in Hunchun -- photo by Adam Cathcart

News from Yanji

Well, North Korea may be on fire, but the wise Chinese Communist Party has apparently decided that releasing the news in the PRC would disturb social harmony.  Or otherwise interfere with its evolving master narrative on North Korea.  As Professor Jonathan Pollack reminds us, the PRC narrative now includes sticks as well as carrots, and features some unprecedented public criticism of North Korea.

So instead of a story in regional news outlets in Yanbian on the North Korean fires which might stir sympathy (or open up a can of “indeed, why is the air so bad anyway, comrade?” whoopass), we get a story derived from the Huanqiu Shibao which is actually quite sympathetic to South Korea and the U.S. about the dangers of an “elite-level North Korean hacking unit.”  Or this China Daily story from October 21, 2009, focusing on DPRK diplomat Ri Gun’s forthcoming trip to the U.S., focusing again on the Six-Party Talks revival.  Increasingly rare are items like this one, a simple transmittal of a Rodong Sinmun story in the mainland Chinese press.

Giving some indication that people along the Sino-North Korean border may in fact be talking about fires, the local television station in Yanbian obliges with a report on a small fire in a local hotel.

On the previous point, I can be accused of overreading, but then again I’ve spent enough hours reading CCP news  to know that one of the important functions that Xinhua serves is to confuse the confusable people by putting out stories that resemble the more important story in terms of keywords.

Example: Q. Did you hear about the fire?  A. Yes, you mean at the hotel?  Q. No, in North Korea.  A. Oh, there was a fire at the hotel; did you hear about that? This technique was used expertly, and effectively, by the CCP when the character-assassination, Mao-as-Hitler biography by Jung Chang came out in 2005: China responded by re-releasing a deeply edited version of Russ Terrill’s decade-old Mao biography with great fanfare and calling it “the latest Mao biography from the West.”  In other words, when you can’t change the subject, pretend you are the subject.

But then again, how can you argue with another story about fires? 

Yanbian Koreans in the ROK

Three Yanbian Koreans, including Zhao Yingzi, a 53-year old community leader, were recently killed in an arson in South Korea.  I think that incidents like this, and their subsequent reporting in Chinese media, help to underscore why South Korea is not necessarily viewed as a promised land — and the North therefore axiomatically rejected — by Yanbian Koreans.  They know that Yanbian Koreans are often treated as second-class Koreans in the ROK, misused and exploited.  Although the wages are high and more than 200,000 Yanbian Koreans are living in the ROK as laborers, it can be a very difficult life.  Thus Xinhua’s language can be interpreted here as a genuinely remorseful expression of a compatriot who has fallen in her pursuit of something elusive, never now to be found, outside the “motherland” of China.  As the story says, 今年4月份,赵英子办理了出国手续,踏上了异国他乡淘金的路途,可谁承想踏上的竟是一条不归路, or, something like “this past April, Zhao Yingzi prepared the formalities to leave the country, trodding the golden road to a strange country, but was instead invited to trod the road of no return.”

A note on word choice: I don’t know about you, but even though I know the writer is trying to manipulate me here, I can’t help but get a little tingle.  Perhaps I am too easy a target, thinking here of the character  异, strange, other, as Camus’ “The Stranger,” another story which involves death in an adopted land.  I recall a discussion I once read by a Chinese student in France who was “reading The Stranger in a strange land,” relishing it, but understanding the sorrow of it.   And as tomorrow I trod a new road — to San Francisco — I am susceptible to such writing.

By the way, Zhao Yingzi lived on Xinhua Road in Yanji — “New China” indeed.

Tumen Tourism Agreement with North Hamgyong

This post from May, 2009, is a rather fascinating discussion of the opening of the Tumen-Nanyang bridge to increased pedestrian traffic and tourism exchanges.

Tumen-Nanyang crossing point -- for some reason the original photo caption also includes the words Qin Terracotta Soldiers -- is that some veiled stab where Qin Shihuangdi loots Tanduns tomb and smashes the Korean ur-monarchs giant pubic bone?

Tumen-Nanyang crossing point -- for some reason the original photo caption also includes the words "Qin Terracotta Soldiers" --perhaps a veiled stab? Some historical threat whereby Qin Shihuangdi swoops down past the Han commanderies of his successors, loots Tandun's tomb, and smashes the Korean ur-monarch's giant pubic bone?

It seems the Tumen City government has been actively soliciting the North Hamgyong Province Tourism Board [ 朝鲜咸镜北道{함경북도}旅游局 ] for years, and finally broke through in setting up the agreement which resulted in trains of PRC passengers bound for short-term visits to Chongjin.

Two things on the Tumen agreement: 1.  Chinese city governments are encouraged to increase their revenue-generating (legal) practices, which creates a local impetus for cross-border (legal) exchanges on the Sino-Korean frontier, and 2. Damn — North Hamgyong has a Tourism Board!   Of course, given that Chinese are supposed to go gambling at Rajin, it’s a no-brainer.  But those must be some very interesting meetings.  And they result in strangely estatic newspaper articles in Yanbian; apparently cheap dried seafood in the smoky North Korean port of Chongjin is worth the trip.

But apparently North Hamgyong province has done more than its share of outreach with Chinese neighbors, spreading the love here to Mudanjiang, that eastern outpost of Heilongjiang province, PRC, once part of that august mental construction of Pukkando.

Traffic Tales – Justice in Yanbian

Finally, a story on lawlessness and short-term fugitives in Yanbian.   Danwei.org regularly translates stories like this, which makes their site particularly valuable: what good is an understanding of China if it has no local flavor, if all that is discussed are missiles, GDP, and foreign policy?  Local news (like this jarring dispatch from the Sino-North Korean-Russian city of Hunchun about a mutton-kabobs roaster who was slashed fourteen times and survived]  is original stuff!

Anyhow, to the story:

A young woman drives at twilight on a Yanbian road.  She smashes into a slow-moving tractor and kills the driver.  She flees the scene.  Hours later, her boyfriend shows up at the police station to turn himself in, saying he was the driver.  But the police investigate further and uncover the ruse.  Now they both get jail time.  No escape from the web of justice in Yanji!

Her last name: Zhao.

If only Ms. Zhao had paid as much attention to this sign as Dr. Cathcart -- between Hunchun and Yanji, July 2009, photo by Adam Cathcart, Ph. D.

If only Ms. Zhao had paid as much attention to this sign -- between Hunchun and Yanji, July 2009, photo by Adam Cathcart.