Obedient, Intransigent North Korea in the Chinese Media

Thanks to the ever-productive Joshua Stanton at the very useful but hopelessly Anglophone (and somewhat impervious) command post for North Korean counter-revolution known as One Free Korea, I got motivated to do some more analysis of Chinese sources touching upon the recent flare-up in the sea to the west (and north!) of the DMZ in Korea.

As I see it, Chinese media strategy as regards the Korean crisis for the past month has centered upon the following themes:

- Downplay the KPA’s having initiated Yeonpyeong incident, but allow some sympathetic reporting and photos regarding civilians on the island so as to reinforce the general harm that war poses;

- Yoke responsibility for tensions on both Koreas, keeping in mind the need to reconsolidate relations with Pyongyang in the wake of certain discomfiting (Wikileaks) disclosures of discussions that reveal at least the possibility of serious internal fissures in the alliance with the DPRK;

- Call repeatedly for Six Party Talks, preserving the central PRC role in mediating, and also precluding some North Korean lone deal with Washington via Bill Richardson or whomever comes calling;

- And imply in the sizable yet nevertheless endemically vague wave of anti-Liu Xiaobo articles that China, yes, China was deserving of the Nobel Prize for Peace due to its even-handed handling of the Korean peninsula situation.  (This last theme was hardly prevalent, but I picked up between the lines in more than a couple of places.

Today, the Xinhua news tack is to freak out over the ROK artillery drills, leaving South Korea standing as the final provocateur, making their firing live artillery into an empty slate of sea in the direction of Shandong province front-page news pretty much everywhere.

This means that the DRPK can get some positive reinforcement for its restraint in not retaliating.  The Global Times today spells it out in an op-ed which by North Korean standards is either fairly clever, or indicates how desperate China has become to quiet this whole thing down.  (Applause for North Korean Restraint,” which wins the prize for most unlikely headline of the year…)

Criticizing North Korea in the Chinese Press

However, it might be worth noting that while South Korea seems to get little more than verbal rifle butts from Beijing’s English-language media of late (anger over military drills, unusually straight statements that Seoul can never unilaterally unify Korean peninsula, etc.), the Chinese-language press in the PRC always makes a few things clear:

- North Korea is overly arrogant (see May 2010 writings after “nuclear fission” announcement)

- North Korea is poor, and its leadership (as opposed to its socialist system) is weird

- South Korea has vastly superior armaments (a fact which is persistently and specifically reported on in China)

- South Korea has public opinion and civil society (the absence of which in DPRK is obvious)

- Responsibility for peace on peninsula is in large measure up to South Korea, because North Korea basically refuses to change.

The tendency to go easy on North Korea in English publications, while critiquing them in Chinese, has been more evident lately. Yesterday’s Global Times (basically the English-language foreign-affairs offshoot of People’s Daily) op-ed “US destructive role in Northeast Asia” can be contrasted with today’s Chinese-language op-ed, “但愿朝韩的心理昨天扯平了(“If Only Yesterday['s Drills] Psychologically Equalized North and South Korea).”

A few highlights from the latter piece include: “The power and pressure of the ROK-US military alliance on North Korea doesn’t need to be demonstrated.  Even if North Korea has already taken up nuclear weapons, American nuclear power could wipe North Korea from the map. This, and the fact that South Korean population outnumbers North Korean by a factor of two or three, and has economic power even more times larger than North Korea, is also clear.”

I don’t know about you, but apart from the first sentence, that sounds like something Mike Mullen might say openly, that is, if he felt like making North Korea really very mad.  But this appears in a nationalistic/pugilistic standard Chinese publication on foreign affairs, and no one notices, and KCNA keeps its mouth shut about it.

Is it the case that the North Korean Embassy in Beijing simply does not read the Huanqiu Shibao?  Is it possible that couched in its criticisms of South Korea, the Chinese media is in no way rather forcefully reminding the DPRK that it would get very badly beaten in a conventional (or even a nuclear) war?

In other words, it is a mistake to judge China’s actual thinking (or its actual _stance_) on the North Korean issue by what they tell you they think in English.  The domestic discussion in China of the Korea problem is still barnacled with all manner of inconsistencies and barriers to information, but it deserves a little better treatment than the assumption that Shen Dingli in Shanghai and Lu Chao in Liaoning represent the uncritical consensus on the DPRK.

Shen, by the way, has a nice op-ed in today’s National Defense Journal (国防时报)entitled 忠告朝韩兄弟,战争不是游戏 (Even If Koreans are Loyal Brothers, War is Not a Game).  This outlet is rapidly becoming one of my “favorite” papers in China, and it has a kind of symbiotic relationship with Huanqiu Shibao. In any case, the editorial reminds us of something which you simply will not hear in the Western echo chamber, which is that China fought a war from 1950-53, one of the ultimate aims of which was to expand the range of North Korean territory for the purpose of securing a durable and dignified peace for the North, but that the cease-fire agreement could not settle upon who owned the islands upon which the artillery controversy is now playing. Complain about Shen Dingli’s dogmatism if you must, Mr. Stanton, but applaud how his dogma appears to be attached to facts which might sometimes bear repeating.

Reassessing Wars and Occupations in North Korea

If Chinese criticism of North Korea counts as progress toward a more “globalized outlook on the DPRK” inside of China, we see the same in the realm of historical analysis.  Popular magazines in China are now recounting the Korean War as having been started by a North Korean “advance” into the South.  (Sure, you might add, it is in fact 60 years late, but it is after all the anniversary season in China, and therefore time to consolidate and capitalize upon master narratives).  So Kim Il Sung is looking a bit worse for wear these days, even while core publications like the National Defense Journal hold up the justice of the intervention.  Granite Studio has a good post on evolving Korean War narratives, and some speculation on Xi Jinping’s Korea policy.

Myself, I’m waiting for the big retrospective on the Chinese occupation of North Korea from 1953-1958.  Or is the only place to learn about that in the Foreign Ministry Archive in Beijing or the Hoover Institution Archive in Palo Alto, California?

Isn’t it completely ridiculous that the very people who are constantly barking about the coming Chinese “occupation” of a post-collapse North Korea (see: Kaplan, Robert, Atlantic Monthly) know next to nothing about how the PRC and the Chinese “volunteers” operated in those five lean years?

Fortunately there are many more documents and information available about Sino-North Korean relations in the 1960s, in the form of an extensive new North Korea International Documentation Project working paper which spends over a hundred beautifully footnoted pages recalling a time (1968) when the DPRK was agitating for war and chafing about China’s new path.

There are a few possible untruths in there (such as that ethnic Chinese loaded the frozen bodies of dead ethnic Koreans on to some random “freight train” going into the DPRK in 1967-68 and wrote anti-revisionist slogans on the bodies, which is unlikely on multiple levels), but on the whole, it reveals the tensions between North Korea and China at a very different (yet somehow similar) time.

Yanbian and the Border Region

On Yanbian, don’t miss this post (from the Korean) by Lee Yoo Eun about possible volcanic explosion of Mount Paektu/Changbaishan.

And the Global Times, citing uncited reports in the Singapore Lianhe Zaobao, has a good human-interest-meets-geostrategy post on war fears ratcheting up in the Sino-North Korean border region, and indicates that Chinese troops may be filing into Ji’an on the Yalu River.

Heinrik Bork On China’s Role in the Crisis

Occasionally someone who has not enlisted in the ROK military or (Dear God!) memorized “The Pledge of Allegiance” will tender analysis of the Korean Peninsula, and will do so in a way that renders the North Korean strategy clear.  Don’t miss the linked essay below by Heinrik Bork.  Any man who can fence at length with Japanese revanchist manga man Kobayashi Yoshinori and do justice to the German view of the Rape of Nanking, and spend a couple of decades capably in Asia, has my vote of confidence.

I actually don’t agree with Bork’s assertion that China is walking on pins and needles with the DPRK simply because it fears a refugee influx (after all, China’s capacity to handle natural disasters and flood/earthquake relief in recent years has given the regime a great deal of confidence in these areas — witness the $250 million donation to Pakistan by Wen Jiabao for that country’s disaster relief), but this is solid stuff over all.  We are, as Bork says in his article “Korea Crisis: The Role of Beijing and the Useful Dictator,” only “in the early stages of atomic poker.”

Into the Sandstorm, a New Season Indeed - photo by Jason Lee, via Reuters and Liberation.fr

Welcome to the North Korean Labryinth

No sooner has Jimmy Carter arrived in Pyongyang to negotiate for a low-level American hostage than Kim Jong Il is reported to be in China’s northeastern Jilin province.

This trip, if it turns out to be true, would be logical only in the sense that the putative successor Kim Jong Eun, by traveling into Manchuria, could be then said to better understand the mystical connection which his grandfather and father both had in the region.  Kim Il Song was educated at the school where Kim Jong Il visited, and North Korean diplomat Kim Yongyi was also there this past February.  The school’s website has no acknowledgment of the visit, but it does have a sweet Fen-Fen style sword on its homepage exhorting good preparation for the gaokao.  Clearly the school has a kind of talisman-like quality for the regime in Pyongyang.  Kim Jong Il also attended school in Jilin province for two years during the Korean War, but far less is known about that connection.

In last week’s Arirang festival for Chinese audiences in Pyongyang, one of the human flash cards did specifically praise Kim Il Song’s time in Manchuria, with the implication that it helped him to become a better leader of the North Korean revolution and also in his understanding of China.  (I viewed the pictures fresh from the North Korean tour operators in Dandong; unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to make copies.)

Finally, a trip through Ji’an could connect the Kim family with the Koguryo tombs in that city, but it’s doubtful that the CCP would allow for this to happen.

The Chinese media has now picked up the Kim-in-China story, but in very, very strange ways.  The Huanqiu Shibao leads its website with a short item headlined “韩媒称在华访问;朝鲜大使馆称不知情 [South Korean Media Reports that Kim Jong Il is On a Visit to China; North Korean Embassy Says it Doesn't Know Clearly].”

The story is then juxtaposed with this long piece about the Kim family which allegedly dates from June 2009 (when Kim Jong Eun was first rumored to have been in Beijing) which is hardly complementary toward the Dear Leader.

Moreover, the Huanqiu Shibao front page draws readers to a comment made by Kim Jong Il nearly three months ago stating that “North Korean socialism is situated in an invincible position /朝鲜社会主义位于不败之地.”

The netizen comments affixed to these stories are covered in scorn for Kim Jong Il.  China is not extending a welcoming hand in its propaganda for Kim Jong Eun or his father.

Finally, thanks an e-mail from the talented Chris Green over at Daily NK, I became aware of this editorial from People’s DailyIt is a must read; in sum with the other available evidence in Chinese, I can only assume that this harsh editorial is a way for China to both reassure North Korea that China does not want immediate and radical change on the peninsula and will stand up for them militarily, but that collective, mature, leadership is truly needed in North Korea, not the continuation of a stultifying personality cult system of family leadership.

Much, much more to come as this story unfolds…

韩媒称金正日在华访问 朝大使馆称不知情

Sunday Links: Korea

1. Joshua Stanton’s analysis of Sino-North Korean relations on One Free Korea is stuffed with things worth thinking about.  Of course, when he equates the Global Times with the Nazi organ Voelkische Beobachter, I, speaking as someone who actually reads the Global Times (usually in its Chinese version, not through partial characterizations of articles by Reuters or AFP or South Korean papers) as well as a sometime reader of the old Voelkische Beobachter in the Nazi archives (where I’ve been getting my hands dirty all last week), find Joshua’s comparison to be gratuitous.

Do you find it at all strange or frustrating when people beat up on China for what it publishes in Global Times/Huanqiu Shibao when those same people are unable to provide so much as a link or an article title?  I think it stretches credibility as much as it undermines the old humanist ideal of ad fontes, taking the truth from the sources themselves.  Time for a Reformation of sorts, led by the mere 20,000 non-ethnically-Chinese Americans who speak Mandarin and read Chinese characters!  Or we could just continue to rely on Chris Buckley’s expertise for Reuters in Beijing.  After all, isn’t that what our foreign correspondents are for, anyway, to do our reading for us?

2. It appears that North Korean border guards have killed another two Chinese nationals, this time near Musan, a mining town directly on the Chinese border.  Here’s a photo of the city I took last year (click image for links to my other Musan posts):

The dark green side with the vegetation is China; the arid, clear cut side is Musan.

3. June was a pretty dead month on the website of the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, but on June 30, the Chinese Ambassador visited a Sino-Korean agricultural company, apparently outside of Pyongyang (link in Chinese, but interesting photos).  Oh yes, there was also singing and dancing, a must for any act of socialist friendship, even here in Germany, where some North Korean students from Kim Il Sung’s alma mater (1923-1925, see link), apparently came to win math competitions.

4.  Good Friends, the Buddhist organization in Seoul, has finally gotten out their reports for the month of June; one account however, is being disputed by the Daily NK’s inside sources.  An interesting test case for defector testimony veracity, something to think about as in this article in which the Daily NK, sourcing Radio Free North Korea, reports that “anti-Kim leaflets” have appeared in Hoeryong, another significant border city in North Hamgyong province. Again, it makes you wonder.

5. KCNA, the North Korean news agency, reports that Chinese media delegations were in Pyongyang, and that  “the performance goes on” in Sinuiju of a mobilizing play about the Chollima era (imagine that you’re nostalgic for how great things were in the 1960s in North Korea — it’s quite a commentary.   KCNA further reports that the border city of Hyesan has enjoyed some new construction recently, of an anti-Japanese martyr’s monument and cemetery, that is.  Hyesan is already studded with these kinds of things, but, as Kim Jong Il was recently there, it’s clear he continues to focus on monument building in equal or greater measure than economic development.  This piece lumps the DPRK in with China as targets of US nuclear threats in the 1950s.  And don’t miss this piece:

Anti-US Song Popular in Korea

Pyongyang, June 28 (KCNA) — The song “Death to the U.S. Imperialist Aggressors”, created in Juche 49 (1960), is still popular in Korea.

The song encourages the servicepersons and civilians to the struggle against the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean puppet regime.It was played by the band in various events, including a Pyongyang army-people rally and revenge-vowing meetings of working people’s organizations, held on June 25, the day of the struggle against the U.S. imperialists”.

Reflected in the song is a strong will of the Korean people to always keep themselves ready for action and decisively frustrate the reckless war provocation moves of the U.S. imperialists and the south Korean regime of traitors.  It also contains the idea that the Korean army and people, led by General Secretary Kim Jong Il, will surely emerge victorious in fight with the U.S. imperialists.

And here we have more proof that the Sinuiju Student Incident of 1945 is on the mind of the present regime in Pyongyang.  If you haven’t read my bio lately, I’ll immodestly remind you that co-author Chuck Kraus and I appear to be the world’s foremost experts on that crucial and unique moment of open rebellion in North Korea, at least until someone surpasses our account of the Incident published in 2008 in Journal of Korean Studies at Stanford.

6. This KCNA article is a subtle refutation of the story that China has turned its back on North Korea’s version of the history of the Korean War.  These meetings in Shenyang are rarely reported in the Chinese press, which makes you wonder if this is something that happens in the North Korean consulate in that city.   But this is a very curious and interesting piece.

7.  Finally, don’t miss this collection of stories from London Korea Links, a great site which not only cites Sinologistical Violoncellist but includes some beautiful photos and has this priceless comment:

As if everything to do with North Korea isn’t depressing enough, Mount Baekdu will erupt in the next few years. http://bit.ly/9WVVgO

Happy Independence Day, America!  Last year I celebrated by grilling some fish and swimming with some Chinese cops and their families and my crazy friend Bang Zi in Ji’an, a little city with ancient Koguryo tombs just on the North Korean border.  And North Korea was so kind to reciprocate by testing rockets then!  So today seems sanguine as I witness the long aftermath of Germany’s football victory yesterday (screaming the lungs out in nationalistic fury for an adopted motherland, once again experiencing that odd German duality of total joy in the present while standing on the site of commemorated and unthinkable atrocities)….So today it is on to tilling intellectual fields in Berlin and thinking about Korea.  I’m landing in Seoul — that other bifurcated land — in less than 48 hours, so may be silent on the blog front for a bit.

Im Dienst des Diktators: Translation [2] — The Korean War Years

Having now read a bit more than half of the new memoir/expose by former North Korean arms dealer Kim Jong Ryul, I wanted to share a few more thoughts about the book and translate another portion of the text.

Although the book is getting attention for its detailed description of DPRK purchases in Vienna and the German-speaking world, not so many Anglophone commentators seem to care for the really Korean aspects of this story.

Kim Jong Ryul’s childhood is described through some tinted glasses here, but it’s worth noting that his father was taken away from his northern village to work for three years as a laborer in Japan, returning only after the Japanese defeat in the Second World War.  His father’s early joining of the Party — in 1946 — would prove to be his son’s greatest defense in future years, as an unquestionably solid “class background” resulted.  Scholars interested in the dynamics of regime consolidation in the earliest years of socialism north of the 38th parallel get a few more details here (pp. 37-39).

Unfortunately, Kim’s voice is consistently overtaken by the omniscient narrators, who frequently interrupt his story with a three-page spiel of general background on Korean history which could easily be found elsewhere, and in more expert hands.  But they write well and context isn’t in itself a bad thing to have.  And, since writing for a German-language audience, we get little tidbits like this view of the Korean War:

The intensity of the war is evidenced in the actions of the formidable of the U.S. Air Force [veranschaulicht der gewaltige /Einsatz der US-Luftwaffe].  In the space of three years, they dropped more bombs on the city of Pyongyang alone than on all of Nazi Germany in the Second World War.  After the end of the war, virtually no intact buildings were left standing in the destroyed cities (p. 42).

Kim Jong Ryul’s personal experiences in the Korean War are described (pp. 43-46).  When the war breaks out in 1950, he is 15 years old, working at a print shop for a Party school in Pyongyang.  (Very much at odds with societal findings by scholars like Charles Armstrong, Kim describes himself in this period as being totally uninterested in politics.)  Under the weight of U.S. bombers overhead, Kim and his colleagues schlepped all of the school’s printing implements to the Pyongyang train station and moved towards China with the entire staff and student body of the school, totaling over 700 people filling more than 20 railroad cars, stopping occasionally when the danger of air raids loomed, and dispersing into the woods to flee the angel of death (p. 43).

At the Chinese border (which was either at Andong or Ji’an, the authors don’t bother to ask, reproducing the worst and ubiquitous problem displayed even by people like Mike Kim for whom “the border” with China is all one big amorphous thing), the train is stopped.  The Chinese were allowing only students, teachers, and fuctionaries into the PRC.  Refugees who had clung to the train were not allowed in.  More to the point, Kim Jong Ryul was not a formal student at the school, and was thus denied entry to the PRC.  Thus he, along with others, began walking south in the direction of his hometown, a refugee within his own country.  They walked day and night, and found sufficient food — but also found American soldiers moving north.  He and his friends were shocked nearly to death, having been strongly inculcated with the idea that the “American devils” would shoot them.   Instead, the GIs threw he and his friends some sustenance and chocolate bars.  Kim finally ended up in his hometown.  His family has fled to the city of Pyongyang, where daily air raids are sinking the city into ashes…(p. 44).

A neighbor remains, however, and, knowing Jong Ryul’s aptitude with printers, seeks out an official in the Workers’ Party who can use the young man’s skills.  He is thus brought back into the embrace of the North Korean state, and imbued with the notion that he simply needs to work hard, study hard, and ultimately join the Party.  His workshop is 1.5 kilometers from the ministry for which he worked, allowing him, along with his 1000 colleagues in the ministry, access to a precious item: ten Czech-produced vehicles given to Pyongyang by communist “brothers” before the war.  This appears to be Kim’s first encounter with the technologies which would later form the centerpiece of his career (p. 45).

On one day, however, he has to flee his vehicle and see it destroyed by an American air raid.  “It wasn’t your fault,” his supervisors tell him, surveying the smouldering wreck.  Kim told his biographers that he never thought of the possibility of his own death in those years, but did flee many, many times during air raids into the bunkers built by the Japanese while the sirens wailed for what seemed like hours.  Emerging from the bunker, he saw body parts hanging from tree branches, craters meters deep in the streets.  Closing his eyes, he can still perpetually see those images.

For two years, Kim Jong Ryul lived underground in a tunnel system.  He slept in a bunker 70 meters under the ground next to the Education Ministry in Pyongyang. However, in 1952, at the age of 17, he was given the chance to leave the city, taking a small backpack to the “Jong Ju” school 150 km north of Pyongyang. (p. 46).

He then immerses himself in education, focusing on physics, but also reading literature classics like “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “War and Peace.”  The lack of food brought him to a rapid understanding of which wild plants could be eaten, while, at the same time, in his science classes, he learned that living things need protein to survive.  (p. 50)

Korean War Memorial detail, Bozeman, Montana -- photo by Adam Cathcart

North Korea Freezes Tourism from China

Just when you thought the Sino-North Korean relationship was back to its apparently solid traditional footing — after all, were not the kisses fresh on the cheeks of the generals with big hats? — North Korea announces that it is freezing tourist visits from China as of December 10.

Reassurances were given that PRC citizens currently in the DPRK would have no problems and could complete their tours.

Given the fanfare with which the Sino-North Korean tourism ties were laid out and broadened earlier this spring, and further deepened with Wen Jiabao’s visit, this new North Korean move is quite an about-face.

It also indicates, perhaps, serious nervousness by Pyongyang about the degree of social stability within the state.  And at a time when the regime appears to be attempting to wean the population off of the Chinese yuan, there isn’t much point in having Chinese tourists return to the PRC with stories of North Korean merchants fighting over those beautiful red 100-yuan notes.

Of course, this is far from the first time that tourism has been a thorn in the Sino-North Korean relationship.  As the Asia Times reported in 2005, a little spat shut down cross-border  traffic between Dandong-Sinuiju and Ji’an-Man’po.

[Hat tip to Juchechosunmanse, whose blog today provides (via Chinese DPRK blogger Hexun) a valuable analysis and translation from the Chinese interview with the head of North Korea's Central Bank, Jo Sung-hyun, about the recent currency turmoil.]

Hills outside of Man'po, DPRK -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Tropes of Victimization in North Korean Textbooks of the Late 1950s


Kim Hui Il, "Mijaenun Chosun Inminui Huonssu" / 美帝是朝鲜人民的仇人 / Title: "American Imperialism is the Foe of the North Korean (Chosun) People, Vol. 2" ---- The red board reads "Guksa Bunk_ Sa" /国际愤慨线/"Parallel of International Resentment", a play on the 38th parallel, for which the US can be blamed, and the notion of global witnesses to American atrocities, as if at the 38th parallel, an international tribunal awaits the American imperialist.

Just a few scans from a single Korean source I picked up last year in Yanbian, published in Pyongyang in 1959, the year after the Chinese People’s Volunteers left North Korea and filed back into the maelstrom of Great Leap Forward-afflicted China through Dandong, Ji’an, and Tumen.

Relevant manuscripts:

Adam Cathcart and Charles Kraus, “The Bonds of Brotherhood: New Evidence of Sino-North Korean Exchanges, 1950-1954,” revised resubmission to Journal of Cold War Studies. (E.g., unpublished manuscript in the pipeline, based upon Zhou Enlai’s newly published papers and archival research in the PRC Foreign Ministry Archives, Beijing).

Adam Cathcart and Elizabeth Campbell, “’Every Action for Korea Aids Our German National Struggle': East German Local Mobilization in Support of North Korea in War and Reconstruction, 1950-1962,” unpublished manuscript based upon East German archival sources. (E.g., it’s in that exciting forge of post-archival creation category that is known as  “in preparation” ).

Note on language: 愤慨fen4 kai3 is the word the North Korean artists/editors used to describe, in the cover illustration, their feelings toward the U.S.  it roughly translates to “indignation” or “resentment.”  Either way, it’s quite a loaded concept that we can safely assume is still around and would need to be unpacked a bit.  Or we could just lecture the North Koreans instead.

Brian Myers Says Kim Il Sung Imitates Hirohito, Not Stalin -- Perhaps a Historian of Clothing Could Discuss This Assertion Sometime

Brian Myers Says Kim Il Sung (seated, left) Imitates Hirohito, Not Stalin -- Perhaps a Historian of Clothing Could Discuss This Assertion Sometime

"These Are the Things the Americans Dropped On Us, Plus a Few Hundred Thousand Leaflets Describing How Dead We Would Be For Supporting Kim Il Sung, his Puppetmaster Mao, and his Puppetmaster Stalin"

"These Are the Things the Americans Dropped On Us, Plus a Few Hundred Thousand Leaflets Stressing How Dead We Would Be For Supporting Kim Il Sung, his Puppetmaster Mao, and his Puppetmaster Stalin"

Title Page -- No Chinese or Soviet Assistance Necessary -- We Know What We Want to Convey

Title Page -- No Chinese or Soviet Assistance Necessary -- We Know What We Want to Convey (Red stamp indicates this book is a discard from the Yanbian City Library Stacks)

Destroyed Cultural Heritage

Destroyed Cultural Heritage

Bloodthirsty Americans -- Actually, these are probably modelled after the Soviet caricature periodical Krokodil; they seem hardly to have changed over the years, unlike our thoughtful updating of Kim Jong Il as "Dr. Evil" (sometimes I think that no anti-DPRK propaganda would be more devastating than a full-length revolutionary opera, completely in their idiom, that refutes the origin myth of their state.  It would be as difficult to swallow as a North Korean-spawned version of Bon Jovi singing songs about American debt or represing "The American imperialists started the Korean War," an actual book published by Pyongyang Foreign Languages Press which I recommend to everyone.

Bloodthirsty Americans -- Actually, these are probably modelled after the Soviet caricature periodical Krokodil; they seem hardly to have changed over the years, unlike our thoughtful updating of Kim Jong Il as "Dr. Evil" (sometimes I think that no anti-DPRK propaganda would be more devastating than a full-length revolutionary opera, completely in their idiom, that refutes the origin myth of their state. It would be as difficult to swallow as a North Korean-spawned version of Bon Jovi singing songs about American debt or reprising "The American imperialists started the Korean War," an actual book published by Pyongyang Foreign Languages Press which I recommend to everyone.)

Back cover -- No sops to their socialist allies here, no triumphalism -- just a miserable country with a questionable and somewhat counterfactual narrative of victory that desperately needs reconstruction

Back cover -- No sops to their socialist allies here, no triumphalism -- just a miserable country with a questionable and somewhat counterfactual narrative of victory that desperately needs reconstruction

North Korea Updates

For residents of Sinuiju, the DPRK border city which handles an estimated 70-80% of all Sino-North Korean trade, yesterday’s missile test coincided with the launching of a domestically-based cell phone service.  As Good Friends reported last month, October 10 was the slated blast-off day for North Korea’s new joint venture with Egypt in telecommunications.  (South Korea gets Nokia, North Korea gets Orascomm.)  While the cell phone service has already been propagandized by Pyongyang, I thought it was a nice coincidence that, along with the missle tests, gives the North Koreans some confidence that they are on path to modernization.

No one to my knowledge has yet stated that the missle tests might well have been an effort to stick a much-needed IV in the arm of the latest 100-day struggle campaign.  Going back-to-back with such inequal and often ineffectual, yet nevertheless mandatory, labor contribution campaigns is asking a huge amount from the North Korean populace, even if, as Nolland and Haggard argue, there is no indication of organized domestic resistance.  But disorganized, sporadic resistance?  In spades.  And the DPRK has used such tests in the past as one of the few methods they have of arguing to their populace that progress is being made toward a strong (if not prosperous) society.

Danwei crosses the Yalu with Wen Jiabao (well, flies into Pyongyang) via a Phoenix TV reporter’s account, rendered in a typically nuanced translation.  In addition to this being a stellar post, Danwei links it to a couple of my previous posts on this topic.  Thanks!

NK Leadership Watch keeps up its steady diet of meaningful posts with an analysis of Korean Workers’ Party festivities, linking the missle tests to that particular act of commemoration.

The military-first editors at the Huanqiu Shibao are hyperventilating over Indian interference in southern Tibet, decrying (with push-polls and all) the Indian President’s visit to the zone of Sino-Indian territorial dispute.  Digging up this smelly corpse from 1962 means the Huanqiu writers are keeping it quiet again on the North Korean front.  Instead, their reporter blogs a happy-happy hackneyed piece on a hamburger stand opening in Pyongyang.  Sorry, (and with apologies to Selig Harrison) but Kim Jong Il is no closet Deng.  In fact he probably hates Deng Xiaoping!  As GI Korea asks, “where did they get the beef?”

Finally, there is some action in the comments section on ROK Drop in which it becomes clear that for Chinese who wish to find out, information about North Korean sarin production in Sinuiju is, well, leaking into China.

Harmonious Gas Station Near the North Korean Border -- Don't Try Paying for those Pringles in NK Won -- outside Ji'an, June 2009, photo by Adam Cathcart

Harmonious Gas Station Near the North Korean Border -- Don't Try Paying for those Pringles in NK Won -- outside Ji'an, June 2009, photo by Adam Cathcart

Correcting the Record on News from the Border Zone


Regular sources of information from the Chinese-North Korean border zone are difficult to come by. The Daily NK is one of the more abundant, and apparently reliable sources, that Western readers have at our disposal. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, few researchers have noted crucial discrepancies between reports filed in Chinese and the English language-version which most people read in the West.

Just for reminders: The Daily NK articles usually appear in three languages (Korean, Chinese, and English). My impression is that the Korean-Chinese translations are reasonably faithful, and the idioms often indicate that the original version of the article are written in Chinese. So in both cases, the English translations are done rather quickly and need double-checking.

The English-language translations of the articles tend to amplify sensational charges that North Korean troops move freely through the PRC. And then Western commentators pick up Daily NK as a primary source backing up their own confident and heavily-documented assertions that China and North Korea are in full cahoots in hunting down North Korean refugees in China.

Of course, heavily-documented does not necessarily mean that the documentation cited is itself accurate. One has to burrow down into the sources like one of J.R.R. Tolkein’s fabled and flinty dwarves.

Like the North Koreans in the 1950s, the dwarves are drillers; to absorb their downward impulse is to burrow down into opposing footnotes and hack with heavy blades into granite-layered documentation.

Like the North Koreans in the 1950s, the dwarves are drillers; to absorb their downward impulse is to burrow down into opposing footnotes and hack with heavy blades into granite-layered documentation.

The Culprits

Let’s take two frequently-cited examples of Daily NK reportage from February 2007: Han Young Jin’s “1 Platoon of Border Guards Escape North Korea” and Kim Yong Hun’s “More North Korean Agents Dispatched to China.”

These two stories are frequently cited. The Daily NK itself, in an editorial based on the above two stories, reveals its belief that the incidents portrayed in the articles portend the coming collapse of North Korea. I’m not sure what your threshold for credibility is, but sentences like this make me nervous: “The reliability of the news seems very high since more than one inside-source provided the news.” This indicates that most of the stories are based on a single source. I also wonder what rewards sources in North Korea expect from the Daily NK. A cell phone call to Changchun and divulging such information to a foreign reporter would obviously place the source in danger; if compensation is provided to sources, this obviously compromises the quality of the information since sources could conjure up false visions merely as a means of gaining some precious foreign currency.

The Method

As in previous versions, I provide you with 1) the original Chinese; 2), my modified English version; 3) the Daily NK original version in grey and 4) my own analysis of the discrepancies and the content the reportage, in italics. Blue indicates data that does not show up at all in the Daily NK’s original English version, but that is unquestionably part of the Chinese version of the same article. Orange indicates a significant change in interpretation more faithful to the Daily NK’s original version. If as a consumer of this content, you have suggestions for ways I could make the work more clear, please, as always, feel free to leave a comment at the end of the post.

Here goes:

Article: Han Young Jin’s “1 Platoon of Border Guards Escape North Korea.

[1] 据朝鲜内部消息通4日通报给DailyNK的消息,最近为逃避中央党联合小组对中朝边境地区的检阅和逮捕,会宁地区边境警备队大约1个小队数量的军人逃往中国。为检举这些军人,朝鲜抓捕小组渗透中国,展开抓捕行动。

According to recent news from within North Korea conveyed to the Daily NK on 4 February [2007], a regiment of border guards linked to the central party fled an inspection that would have resulted in their being taken into custody [for corruption]. A number of border protection troops from Hoeryung equivalent to a regiment have fled towards China. In order to report on and seize this military group, North Korea is infiltrating China with an organized group.

[Recently, a platoon of border guards from the district of Hoiryeong escaped to China to avoid the arrest of inspection agency, an inside North Korean source informed the DailyNK on the 4th. North Korean authorities have responded by sending an inspection agency to China in search of these guards.]

Note: The most specific addition is the verb “infiltrate” on the part of the group sent by the North Korean government. This implies that if North Korean agents are being sent into China, it isn’t with the consent of the Chinese. My version also makes the first sentence more clear. It’s not that their arrest was absolutely a fait accompli, it’s that an inspection was coming up and they felt assured that they would be disciplined. Thus even regular checks on corruption creates flight from the DPRK.


On 4 [February 2007], a source intimately familiar with the security situation along the border, a resident of Hyeryong city whose pseudonym is Lee Jong Sam, said “Recently, about 20 guards from the border city of Hoiryeong escaped to China. So the Security Control Centre under the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces and National Safety Agency cooperated and urgently dispatched a team to China.”

A resident of Hoiryeong, Lee Jong Sam (pseudonym) who discovered this case informed on the 4th “Recently, about 20 guards from the border city of Hoiryeong escaped to China. So the Security Control Centre under the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces and National Safety Agency the collaborated and dispatched a team to China.”

Note: This source’s pseudonym is fantastic! It literally means “Li Truly of the Forest” or “Li In the Forest”. Beautiful — he has a sense of style. And generally speaking, “collaborated” is a verb we want to avoid when dealing with NK security organizations in favor of “cooperation,” because the latter is more accurate, and the latter is considered a smear in a country where “collaboration” usually translates into “pro-Japanese.”

This idea of interagency cooperation on the border issue is interesting — one wonders if some data exists about the relative degree of corruption or complicity with the border trade in each of the agencies listed here. I often get the feeling that North Hamgyong’s heads perpetually run the risk of having their own small kingdoms of revenue absorbed or wiped out by the center. It is such a gnarly province, hard for any regime to control whether the controlling agency is based in Pyongyang, Seoul, or, as back in the day, Tokyo. I’ll do my part to find some documents in the future from Beijing about specific difficulties with North Hamgyong separatism/regionalism during the Chinese occupation of North Korea from 1950-1958. And its unique ties with Yanbian; they are twins indeed. More in common with Yanbian culturally, linguistically, and topographically, certainly, than with South Pyong’an. There are a couple of talented graduate students at University of NK Studies in Seoul who I visited with there not long ago who are working on this transnational frontier between North Hamgyong and Yanbian. Fertile stuff!

[3] 李氏透漏,“逃出的警备队员们在中央党检阅过程中被认定有助非法渡江(脱北)之嫌,他们并不属于同一个部队而是在各个哨所服役的下士官。”

Mr. Li revealed, “The guards who escaped knew they were being investigated by the central authority on the suspicion of assisting illegal river crossings. They were not guards belonging to the same regiment but sergeants in service at various platoons.”

Lee revealed “The guards who defected where being investigated by the central authority for the suspicion of assisting defectors. They were not guards from the same regiment but sergeants in service at various platoons.”

[4] “他们都跟2月末将执行死刑的边境警备队哨所长、副小队长有关联。”

“They were all sentenced to capital punishment at the end of this month, along with others connected to the sergeant and vice-commander of a guard post” Lee said.

“These guards were affiliated with the sergeant and vice-commander of a guard post sentenced to capital punishment at the end of this month” Lee said.

Note: My translation makes clear that all of these men, not just the sergeant and vice commander, were sentenced to death. C’mon Daily NK! if your goal is to make the NK look bad, you missed a golden chance here! You reported two death sentences in English when in fact there were 20!

Perhaps more interesting, this method of control is completely reminiscent of  Qin Legalism. This is a classic example of how to create rebels!  When one faces a certain death sentence (either from hunger or disobedience), people tend to choose the route which at least offers a final act of defiant life.

[5] 李氏说,大部分警备队员逃往中国时身上没带武器,保卫司和保卫部联合抓捕小组得到中国公安当局和情报机关相助,全力展开着抓捕行动。

Mr. Li said, “Most of the guards escaped to China without carrying weapons and so the Security Control Centre and National Safety Agency connected with the arresting organizations to seek cooperation from Chinese departments and to assist intelligence organizations, all initiated in order to arrest the guards.”

The guards escaped to China without carrying weapons and so the Security Control Centre and National Safety Agency collaborated to seek cooperation from Chinese authorities and information intelligence in order to arrest the guards promptly.

Note: This was a very vague job by the Daily NK translators. First, they missed the fact that some of the soldiers who went into China brought their weapons with them. Chinese news media has reported on similar instances in the past, and really disapproves of this publically when it happens, contrary to to what you might read on One Free Korea where China is just hand in hand with the North Koreans, practically saying “C’mon over, Sargeant Park, and bring your AK and that bayonet! We’ve got us some refugees to string up — do you have that baling wire?” This is not the case.

Next, the Daily NK goes on to describe the kind of cooperation that happens — the North Koreans contacting Chinese security organizations, giving them information, not seeking information from China but giving it to the Chinese instead, which is quite a difference.

[6] “逃出的军人有逃往韩国的可能性,因此上面下令在抓捕过程中如果他们进行反抗,可以射杀他们。”

The defected soldiers could possibly will flee to South Korea, and this is why in the command to the arresting organization [it was stated that] if the defectors act to resist, it is OK to shoot them.

Lee added “There is a possibility the defected soldiers will flee to South Korea. In the case the soldiers resist arrest it seems a command was made to shoot them at any cost.”

Note: This is a big-time overstatement by Daily NK of its own information. “Shoot them at any cost” isn’t what the source said: he relays the idea that if they get into some kind of gun or knifefight on Chinese soil that the arresting agency is permitted kill the AWOL troops, which is quite different than saying that a “shoot to kill” order is in effect for the manhunt in China. Given that the “shoot to kill” is part of the article headline, I think this counts as misrepresentation of the source.

[7] 保卫司和保卫部抓捕小组把在中国的搜索范围扩大到与两江道接壤的长白地区和与慈江道满浦接壤的集安地区。

The Security Control Centre and National Safety Agency inspection teams are hunting within an expanding area in China of Changbai in the area bordering Hyesan, Yangkang province, and Ji’an near the city of Manpo, Jagang province.

The Security Control Centre and National Safety Agency inspection teams are known to be conducting manhunts in the region of Changbai, bordering Yangkang, Haesan [sic] and Jian [sic] near Jagang, Manpo.

Note: Thus far I’ve been confining myself to comment on the word choice, but here we have reason to question the basic facts offered by the source.  It just seems a bit strange for China to be sending North Korean agents all the way from Ongsan, near where Lisa Ling and Euna Lee were apprehended, all the way south down to Ji’an.  This is a huge area to cover — all this for 20 men?

[8] 另一方面,据中国内地的朝鲜消息灵通人士的消息,逃出的警备队员中的数名军人目前被中国国家安全部逮捕,但还未遣返朝鲜,正在接受中国方面的调查。

On the other hand, North Korean sources in China informed that some of the defected guards had been arrested by the Chinese National Protection Agency and though they had yet to be conveyed back to North Korea, they were currently assisting China with investigation.

On the other hand, North Korean sources in China informed that some of the defected guards had been arrested by the Chinese National Protection Agency and though they had yet to be convoyed back to North Korea, they were under Chinese investigation.

Note: Here we have a serious coup! China arrests North Korean border guards for themselves crossing illegally,  and then keeps them in custody to help them track down other renegades. In other words, these people are basically under arrest by the Chinese, who use their services not as equal cooperators, but in the fashion that the NYPD uses drug informants in return for a reduced sentence. This must result in some very uncomfortable conversations between security organizations at the provincial level. After all, wouldn’t it be embarrassing for Kim Jong Il to have to ask his Chinese comrade, “Could you please send back those border guards you arrested? We’re really hoping to put them to death, actually.”  Now who is using refugees for leverage?


The North Korean central inspection agency has been investigating rigorously the illegal act of the border guards helping citizens who try to across the border to China.

[10] 至今,边境警备队一直在收受金钱后帮助朝鲜居民逃出边境。为退役后摆脱贫穷生活,边境警备队员之间流行“服役警备队期间积攒100万元朝币(约为1000美元)运动”。最近,因朝币的再次贬值,“运动”中的积攒金额上升到300万元朝币(目前市值1000美元)。

Until now, border guards have helped North Korean citizens escape after getting paid.  In order to evade a destitute life after being discharged from the military, border guards have begun “Guards, accumulate 100,000won (approximately $1,000) campaign” and more recently, as the North Korean currency has again depreciated, another “300,000 won campaign” has been started.

[11] 对朝消息灵通人士透漏,“边境保卫指导员或哨所长等军官手里有不少美元和中国人民币。” “他们中的有些人争了1万美元以上。”

A North Korean source said “The National Safety Agency, sergeants and military commanders in charge of border security copiously have in their hands dollars and Chinese Yuan” and remarked “Of these people, there are some who have earned more than $10,000.”

[12] 边防警备队帮助渡江,其大部分主使者为中队保卫指导员和哨所长等军官。下士官收受的金钱比军官更少,因此才可能陷入危险境地。

The majority of guards who assist in escaping are the national safety agents of troops and soldiers of guard posts. It is widely known in the border area of North Korea that it is safer to bribe commissioned officers who require a lot more money for help than do petty officers.


In future posts, I’ll aim to tackle the companion piece to this one.  And of course, I would welcome the help of various readers of this site interested in North Korea who may wish to contribute their own corrected translations of similar Daily NK reports.

If at this point you are still wondering why any of this matters, read my exchange here with Joshua Stanton on One Free Korea.  Daily NK reports are used as the basis for reports that assert a wholesale Chinese-North Korean military cooperation in the border zone when, in fact, the reality — and the language — is more complex than that.

Adam Cathcart by the Tumen River south of Hoeryung (North Hamgyong province, DPRK), photo by Chuck Kraus

Adam Cathcart by the Tumen River south of Hoeryong city (North Hamgyong province, DPRK), photo by Chuck Kraus

Understanding the CurrentTV / North Korea Fiasco

[Note: In light of the speed of the news and the interest shown in this issue by Danwei readers,  I have followed this post with another, more considered, analysis of the Tumen river fiasco as it continues to impact evolving Sino-North Korean relations.  -- Adam Cathcart]

Amid the struggle to understand activity on the remote North Korean-Chinese border, few sources are more constant and seemingly complete than The Daily NK.  For English-speaking North Korea watchers like the widely-read, hard-boiled, and usually-credible Joshua Stanton at One Free Korea, the Daily NK has become indispensable and is a constantly-referred to resource upon which rest multiple specific claims of China’s inhumane attitude toward North Korean refugees.  However, few readers realize that the reports are predominantly written first in Chinese, and then translated into English.

And once again we in the West are therefore at the mercy of a translator somewhere in Changchun, Seoul, or Fairfax Virginia.

Prompted by recent dialogue with Mr. Stanton, who is an attorney and human rights advocate in Washington, D.C., I have been doing more investigation recently into the Daily NK’s massive digital archive of stories.  They are fantastically detailed, abundant reports from Northeast China, often based on cell phone interviews with North Koreans along the border or recent defectors.  These dispatches make for gripping reading, providing great detail about life in the northern border regions of the DPRK.  If you want to know the price of grain in Sinuiju or learn about North Korean women joining the army, or hear about the views of ordinary North Koreans toward the United States, check the Daily NK, says the conventional wisdom. But again, the articles are originally written in Korean or Chinese, and then translated into English.

Unfortunately many of the website’s translations are misleading and unreliable.

This matters a great deal, because the site is so frequently leaned upon in making assertions about the border region and China’s role in policing North Korean refugees in particular.

North Korean Soldiers in China

Take for instance the significant claim that North Korean soldiers operate with impunity in China or that China allows small units of the Korean People’s Army and/or North Korean border guards to patrol into China.

This idea is about to get seriously tested, as the CurrentTV reporters indicated they were chased and followed into Chinese territory by North Korean border guards.

And knowledgeable people like Stanton perpetuate the idea that North Korean troops are let into China at various times to catch defectors.  In response to a challenge to his assertion about North Korean troops running wire through refugees’ wrists in China and then dragging them back to the DPRK, Stanton explains:

As to the issue of North Koreans operating in China, multiple reports confirm that China allows it. Please begin with this report from the Congressional-Executive Committee on China, and then read this from the Daily NK.

Well, the linked Congressional report is from 2005 and extensively footnoted, but contains just one sentence about North Korean agents in China, a sentence itself which is qualified with “South Korean newspapers report.”  What is that source?  An editorial from the conservative Chosun Ilbo about the earlier case of Reverend Shik!  In other words, citing the Congressional Report which itself cites something of dubious credibility (and correctly qualifies that citation by changing voice) doesn’t in itself prove anything.  More to the point, the Daily NK translation on the linked article relies on a single telephone interview with someone who allegedly saw some North Korean troops “who looked like they were getting ready to cross into China” [adapted from the Chinese], not running around in the PRC with their (maybe-loaded) weapons.

So we have an assertion parading as fact: North Korean troops move freely within China!  Yes, according to a die-hard editorial writer with a regime-change hard on in Seoul, and a misunderstood translation from one cell-phone wielding source (maybe Ling’s guide! he has a black phone, you know…oooh) who is probably getting paid handsomely for his information.

To prove my point on the translation front, the English version of the Daily NK article states that North Korean security forces are moving into the areas around Changbai and Ji’an, when the original report in Chinese states (and this is certainly the original version, as the reporter is a Korean or ethnic Korean living in Changchun) that the North Korean security forces were moving in the areas across the river from Chinese Changbai and Ji’an.

And having just been there, I can say that my colleagues (and, yes, even a few friends with whom I have and would gladly again share a beer) in the Chinese border patrols would be quite ready to move against any group of North Korean border guards moving around in China.  Oh, and the linked article is actually about a group of North Korean border guards who fled into China in the first place.

So we have the concoction of “North Korean troops in China”:  yes!  The ones who take off their uniforms and run away!

Nevertheless, in a couple of dispatches from Daily NK, amplified and augmented by propaganda from missionary groups, a vision is offered of North Korean agents moving through Chinese territory along the border.  Sometimes, Stanton and the Voices of the Martyrs argue, North Korean troops come back from China with a bunch of captured hogs/human beings strung along in train.  The martyrs group in particular seems to get excited about North Korean refugees suffering wounds akin to stigmata: wires through the hands, they assert.

Thus, if we take this tainted evidence as fact, China is even more complicit with the regime of torture and beatings and killings and mistreatment of these people than heretofore known.  We can then remain smug in our understanding of China and North Korea as two very immoral governments engaging in mutual immorality.  In this scenario, there is no need to question how Chinese attitudes toward North Korea may have changed as a result of recent events: they’re still bad guys and enable North Korean bad behavior.

CurrentTV and the Chinese Response

And as we read the recently-issued mea culpa by the CurrentTV reporters, it all just fits in so perfectly: displayed here is the Chinese indifference to the suffering of the abducted, the stateless, those in need.  And more importantly, China is depicted as complicit in North Korean infiltration into Manchuria for the purpose of abduction.

According to my recent observations in the border region, talking to Chinese experts, and reading of the Chinese press, the PRC leadership and certainly the PLA is not at all eager to see North Korean troops on their soil.  Does anyone report on this?   In the past year, China has even issued somewhat demeaning press reports in mainline nationalist journals like the Global Times/Huanqiu Ribao [环球时报] about individual North Korean border guards gone rogue, and by extension, the force and effectiveness of the Chinese border guards in tossing such intruders into the relevant mobile prison/big fat paddy wagon near Kaishantun.

What a pleasant place to spend a year -- North Korean border surveillance outpost about 40 km north of Changbai/Hyesan (photo by Adam Cathcart, July 2009)

What a pleasant place to spend a year -- North Korean border surveillance outpost about 40 km north of Changbai/Hyesan (photo by Adam Cathcart, July 2009)

In response to reports that China is amping up its military presence across the Northeastern frontier, I can only state that everything in July appeared quit routine: the densest concentration of Chinese troops I saw consisted of the five or so AK-47 wielding PLA/bianfang/边防/border patrol in camouflage valiantly defending a karaoke island from intrepid North Koreans in little Linjiang, Jilin province — but there are others, of course.

But near the above photograph — a building full of peach-fuzz mustache PLA kids in t-shirts lying around on cots, eating, playing cards.  Of course they became serious at their roadblock when it was apparent foreigners were around, checking identification and such while one dug for some egg whites stuck between his teeth.  They are so much better fed than their Korean counterparts that any contest of strength would surely favor the Chinese.

Although, along the lines of true military mobilization, we did have the Chinese air force doing exercises directly over the city of Yanji.

Chinese Fighter Jet over Yanji (banner reads "Establish a Civilized Yanji City," July 2009 -- photo by Adam Cathcart)

Chinese Fighter Jet over Yanji (banner reads "Create a Civilized City," July 2009 -- photo by Adam Cathcart)

( The above image, along with an encounter with a Korean-Chinese scholar in a local bath, reminded me of 1951 when the entire Yanbian University library was relocated to the confiscated home of a local collaborationists landlord for safekeeping, only to return in 1954, the heyday of Sino-Korean cooperation in the new Yanbian Korean Ethnicity Automous Region.)  But I suppose that is all just for show, certainly China would never want to intimidate brotherly North Korea, especially not in an area where the May 25 nuclear test created a minor earthquake.   I’m sure that all the local school kids have forgotten the Chengdu quake and are all just ready to go back to singing songs of Sino-Korean friendship, that is, if they know any besides “March of the People’s Volunteers,” which itself, if one analyzes the lyrics along side the melodic and harmonic content, actually shunts the North Koreans off to the side.)

As regards North Korean security forces in China and the Ling/Lee/Koss debacle: Throughout the spring, the specter of North Korean troops/agents crossing the border was implied in Western media but never substantiated.   It was certainly not asserted in the Chinese media, who were presumably getting their facts straight with the help of testimony from Mitch Koss, his remarkable camera, and local Chinese-Koreans.

Does no one care, or find consequential, what China’s attitude would be in such a highly-publicized incident in the event that it were true that KPA troops hunting for foreigners walked into Jilin? In analyzing things should we not be aware of Chinese sensitivities about “territorial integrity” in a chunk of territory (one no less where Koreans in the early 1930s were overwhelmingly seen by Chinese as the spearhead of Japanese imperialism, not guerrilla fighters) which go way deeper than Tibet ever could? What is the functional linkage between KPA border guards and those on the Chinese side? Neglect of the basic issue — China’s response to the idea of KPA on Chinese soil — has, regrettably, been a completely unexamined facet of the whole CurrentTV affair.

Unfortunately the timing of the CurrentTV editorial, published yesterday at 6:30 p.m. PST, came in the aftermath of the PRC Foreign Ministry’s press briefing in Beijing, so no Chinese officials have had to comment thus far.

In fact, Chinese media, which would be on this story like, well, flies on s*** if they thought it would serve their purpose, is studiously ignoring the Ling/Lee divulgence.  Instead, China is mending its fences with the DPRK, since North Korea’s foreign minister is landing in Beijing (funny how the timing worked out here) and the two countries need to figure out how, among other things, to play the Japan card.   A cute story about North Korean liberalization of the advertising/food service sector is included in the latest Huanqiu, and overall things are pretty sweet right now.

The linked story to Huanqiu Shibao is interesting, however, because North Korea does get slammed for other reasons in the comment section and North Korean foreign minister described as a “white-eyed wolf” and a cunning “dog” who “relies on the United States”.  Say what you will about the rhetoric, but by God! this is shocking stuff — reader comments online, directly on the official newspaper website, appended to the article.  Fortunately in the egalitarian and democratic paradise of ambition that is the USA, we all believe the same thing, so we don’t need the chance to comment directly on sobbing and self-serving editorials in the LA Times or the occasional NY Times story that is unrelated to the Middle East or the stock market.  So suck on it, ChiCom dictators!

The CurrentTV reporters were arrested, according to the North Korean reports, in Onsung-ri, which means Onsung district, in North Hamgyong province.  Although no one in the media has bothered to do so (probably because they don’t read KCNA or understand basic Korean), one can quickly run the place name through the search function on the Daily NK website.

One finds a great deal of information about Onsung city, usually that executions have been taking place there.

The bottom line is that we should be careful with our evidence, there is more to know, and we also have to take care not to miss the much larger aspects of the Chinese-North Korean relations at work here.

Note: One particularly active blog commenter, using the pseudonym “Spelunker,” has not been to the place in question but has provided a wealth of data about the site of the arrest.  His entries on the One Free Korea and Liberate Laura blogs could be followed by any media person or student if they were so inclined.

Upper Reaches of the Yalu near Changbaishan, a North Korean, perhaps a border guard, has chopped down a tree to facilitate crossing.  Photo by Adam Cathcart, July 2009.

Upper Reaches of the Yalu near Changbaishan, a North Korean, perhaps a border guard, has chopped down a tree to facilitate crossing. Photo by Adam Cathcart, July 2009.

Return from Yanbian

My apologies for the paucity of recent posts, friends.  The author of this blog has been smashing through the Chinese borderlands with North Korea, pen in hand, laden with a camera, now borne aloft on new experiences.

In the aftermath of this journey, there are scores of things I would like to say about North Korea and Chinese views of that state.  Along with a few of my extra photos, I will be offloading said views and first-hand accounts onto this blog in the coming weeks.   Fortunately, none of it involves 1. my being kidnapped or 2. walking across the border into North Korea.  (As for 1., I was momentarily trapped in a cab by some miscreants who claimed to be Uighur terrorists at about midnight one evening on the outskirts of Yanji; fortunately I muscled and talked my way out of this situation without relinquishing funds or dignity and was fine.  And they were Han, not Uighurs.  And, as for the second point, although I was very close most of the time to North Korea, for anyone who is not a returning refugee bringing food or cash back home, crossing into that country without permission is both irrational and pointlessly dangerous.)

In all, it was a lovely journey and I am looking forward with great anticipation to describing it further, along with further analysis of related geo-political issues, most of all that badly misunderstood and changing rubric of Sino- North Korean relations.

And some local descriptions of areas such as Ji’an, Linjiang, Changbai Automous Korean County, Yanji, and that Russianized outpost of Hunchun.

Today, following a 36-hour stint back in Beijing to clamber my way through a gang of Huadong Shifan University scholars and collect an armful of documents from the Foreign Ministry Archive, I am now tasting the fruits of internet liberty and the abundance of newspapers which are the domain of the Bundesrepublik, e.g., Deutschland, e.g., Germany.  Yesterday Frankfurt, today Hamburg, tomorrow Berlin.

Finally, a bit of inspiration from Eliezer Gurarie, our favorite scientist in Helsinki/Seattle, whose offering prompted me to return to the blogging method, and to do so forthwith:

the trickle of data oozing through the cracks in the great firewall has gone calando, calando, calando to an deafening fermata, not unlike sightings of the baiji in the long water of the golden sands.

is it the perturbations among the arid sands of the sinic occident?  or in the febrile jungle of the cathcartian heart?  these are the questions that haunt us here, perched in the glass aeries of academe in helsingfors, looking eastward through warm winds, fanciful thunderrolls and heavy baltic mists.

in any case, the silence, we hope, will be broken.

And it has now been broken indeed, not with a Mahlerian thunderclap, but with a modest post, of modest means, tapped out in the modest corner of a Hamburg train station…