New Korean-American Messiah Crosses the Tumen (Updated)

One Free Korea carries a vital and extensive report on the latest international incident on the North Korea-China border:

Reuters is reporting that Robert Park, a 28 year-old American, has walked across the Tumen River from China to the North Korean town of Hoeryong, which is infamous for being both the birthplace of Kim Jong Il’s mother and the the town nearest to Camp 22. Park’s apparent objectives were (1) to get himself arrested and (2) thereby raise global attention about North Korea’s brutal political prison camps. Rest assured that Park will accomplish Objective Number One. The North Korean soldiers who arrested Laura Ling and Euna Lee in March are still being lauded as heroes.

The North Koreans have yet to confirm that they have Park in custody.

Park was known, but not well known, among American activists working to bring attention to North Korean human rights issues, help North Korean refugees, and pressure North Korea and the governments that sustain it with aid. Fellow activists who’ve e-mailed me in the last several hours describe Park as something of a fringe figure. If Park was plugged into any activist organization, it must have been South Korean. Yet Park obviously wasn’t acting completely alone, and this stunt appears to have been premeditated.

Park was in Seoul on December 22, where he met with Reuters reporters (in all likelihood Jon Herskocvitz) who took this photo:

Robert Park in Seoul, Dec. 22, 2009, via Reuters - click image for the link

According to Reuters’ report (of a Dec. 22 interview which was posted 15 hours ago, late on Dec. 25), it appears that Park gave the news agency notice of his plan:

Robert Park, 28, speaks during an interview with Reuters in Seoul December 22, 2009. The U.S. human rights activist trying to raise global attention about the suffering of the North Korean people has crossed into the reclusive state, other activists and South Korean media said on Saturday. Park told to Reuters in Seoul earlier this week that he saw it as his duty as a Christian to make the journey and did not want the U.S. government to try to free him.

An evolving aggregate of variations on the story is available here.  However, none of which as yet has anything particularly fresh to add as yet, except for that his friends testify he walked across the border during a big snowstorm and that the U.S. State Department as yet has no comment.  All I can say is that I would not want to be those guys’ cabbie.

An image gallery of his December 22 interview is available here; this story by Kim Tae-kwon is one of the better ones to have yet appeared:

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said it is looking into Park’s case, but it had no details.
“His fate to us is unknown,” said embassy spokeswoman Susan Stevenson. She said a charitable organization, which did not identify, had notified the State Department in Washington of Park’s actions.
The activist said Park came to South Korea in July and stayed there until leaving for China earlier this week to enter the North. “I would not go to North Korea to live. Even if I die, world leaders should really repent for keeping silence” on North Korea, Park said in Seoul before leaving for China, the activist said.
The activist said Pax Koreana is affiliated with another organization called Freedom and Life For All North Koreans, which is a coalition of advocacy groups for North Korean human rights. Park is a member of the broader group, he said. The coalition and other activist groups plan to hold rallies in New York, Tokyo, Seoul and other cities from Sunday to Thursday.

Unlike his predecessors Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who at least made an effort to run away, Park made it exceptionally easy for the North Koreans to nab him.  In fact, it seems his friends filmed the episode.  Onsung County, where the Current TV reporters had attempted to cross, is certainly heavily militarized, but Hoeryong is something else even more heavily fortified.  Kim Jong Il has paid particular attention to the city in 2009.

Hoeryong is the sixth largest city in the DPRK, and lies clustered up between a large mountain, the Tumen River (which is certainly frozen, as NK is in a major cold snap), and China above.  Kim Jong Il regards it closely, as his mother was born there.  After a visit by Kim in Feb. 2009, Hoeryong was one of the few North Korean cities, only along with Pyongyang, to receive food rations from the government, although potatoes rather than rice seems to be the dominant staple of the day.  (See Radio Free Korea, “Potatoes Replace Rice Ration in Hoeryong.”)

Kim Jong Il’s sister, Kim Kyong-hui, visited the city to buck up spirits on May 30th, urging participation in the 150 day battle campaign while also probably trying to squelch rumors she was in poor health/ incapacitated by breast cancer and angling for Kim Jong Eun in the politics of succession [link removed].  In other words, it is a city closely aligned with the Kim family and, as such, has the security to back it up.  [For comprehensive background on Kim Kyong-hui, see this entry in Mike Madden's NK Leadership Watch blog.]

Park’s action may be judged doubly galling by Kim Jong-il because it impinges upon celebrations for his mother Kim Jong Suk’s birthday.  Though Kim Jong Suk died in 1949, she has assumed saintly proportions in North Korea’s holy trinity, and her hometown is none other than Hoeryong.  The Daily NK carries a helpful report on the December 24 connection.

North Korea Freedom Coalition has nothing to say about Hoeryong or the incident yet, but their page indicates that Park’s bold move may have some support among the community of human rights groups.

Xinhua and the Chinese media appear to be holding their cards at the moment.  The DailyNK’s Chinese page, which is available in the PRC, has nothing yet on Robert Park.  Nor does the Choson Ilbo’s Chinese page, favoring instead some angry rhetoric about Japan.  For the time being, our favorite nationalistic paper on the mainland, the Huanqiu Shibao, is ignoring Mr. Park and running some standard items aligning China with South Korea’s ambassadorial complaints to Japan about textbook revisions.

I would assume, given the sensitivities of both China and North Korea about cross-border incidents, that no Chinese stories will be emerging about this without due consideration, e.g., that we will have to wait until next week when Qin Gang or the PRC Foreign Ministry has to deal with this at a press conference.  Robert Park did the Christmas Eve walk into North Korea, but he also just missed the PRC Foreign Ministry’s press conference, meaning that Qin Gang Jiang Yu had a cakewalk and just hit softballs about how great everything was going with France.  Having perused Park’s documentary ephemera, it doesn’t appear that much of his opprobrium at all is aimed at China, even though the PRC is a logical destination for millions if the DPRK were to follow Park’s advice and “open the border.”

It’s worth recalling that we are standing at a juncture of great delicacy in the North Korean-US relationship, and in China’s relations with North Korea. China has been going through preparations in the aftermath of Hu Jintao’s apparent invitation of Kim Jong Il to Beijing.  Park’s border leap comes just days after Chinese VP/Vice-Chairman/heir apparent Xi Jinping took the bait at a press conference in Seoul and talked openly  — if briefly — about the refugee question. To my knowledge, that’s one of the first public instances of a CCP figure taking it on — even if we’re talking about one sentence: “将根据国际法、国内法及人道主义原则处理,”which I render as: “[China] will handle [the refugee issue] according to international law, domestic law and humanitarian principles.” (My more extensive critique of the Daily NK translation on this story is posted on Joshua Stanton’s blog here.)  But now that North Korea is under pressure again, it’s likely that China will back up their old ally.

Chinese Vice-Chairman Xi Jinping refines his remarks prior to talks with his counterpart in Seoul, December 17, 2009 -- via 中国评论新闻网

Xi’s remark, however, opens the possibility (of which NK is probably terrified) that China could at some point lean upon the various international conventions which have been mentioned at multiple points in this blog.  I think that’s fairly remarkable, particularly given how scripted and bland the CCP leaders tend to be. In other words, this isn’t an off-the-cuff remark, it represents a kind of party consensus and should make the North Koreans rather nervous.

Thus we will need to watch and nitpick future responses on the Park episode, or on North Korean relations more broadly, from the Foreign Ministry.  Reuters and other news agencies, and even the Foreign Ministry itself, have a bad habit of making inexact or misleading translations of items pertaining to the North Korean border.

Finally, to emphasize again the delicacy of the present moment we’re also waiting on a return letter from Kim Jong Il to Obama, among other things, like a formal end to the Korean War.  It’s unlikely under these circumstances that Robert Park is going to create a game change in the fundamentals of what is going on.  That is, unless he bumps would-be terrorists from the front pages *(and he ought to — as catching crazies on airplanes should just be a routine matter at this point!) and gets some traction in the U.S.

However, he’s succeeded in focusing our eyes back on the Sino-North Korean frontier, for which, although the poor bastard is probably getting tortured as we speak, I suppose we should be thankful.

Hat tip to Joshua Stanton, who is, yet again, way out front on this story.  I can only imagine that Robert Park’s friends  in Manchuria are running like hell at the moment…

Northern Border News

The latest Good Friends report from North Korean sources contains a couple of items of note:

The Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) of the National Border Area in the North Hamgyong Province declared that the number of women crossing the river has decreased because of the 150-Day battle. Of course, there were still women crossing the river, but the number of women crossing the river decreased largely in the past two years. The DWU surmises that the efforts of labor mobilization and education business prevented women from thinking about crossing the river. In Heoryong City, women suffered difficult days due to the construction work during the 150-Day battle.

After describing the difficulties of the labor mobilization, the report makes clear that exemptions to the work were possible:

In Onsung City, there was a problem of rich women who missed work by paying large sums of money. The DWU chairwoman and vice chairwoman received bribes and exempted the rich women from having to work at the construction site. They were also accused of embezzling the money collected for taxes and the chairwoman resigned. Despite these events, the financial burden on women continues….Because of the 100-Day battle, which started recently, the DWU members receive lectures daily. Women are complaining because of the demands to either pay fees or work harder.

Onsung county is where US journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee were apprehended, and due to its extreme remoteness from Pyongyang (at the northernmost point of Korea) and proximity to Tumen and Yanji, we know a great deal about goings-on in Onsung.  Let’s hope that the memoirs being penned by Ling and Lee don’t focus only on their abstract ideas of sisterhood or on obfuscating sources in the underground railroad movement in China, but on the everyday lives of women in Onsung — obviously the raw material for such discussion exists and is worth more discussion.

The second aspect of the Good Friends report is a bit more ominous, indicating a greater security presence on the frontier:

National Security Agency Intensifies Spy Patrols
Last October 11, the National Safety and Security Agency of North Korea announced that a South Korean spy network is being formed. North Hamgyong Province and other border area are in search of spies in response. On October 15, the Border Defense Security Command was ordered to begin cracking down against spies who are selling confidential military information for financial gain. The initial surveillance targets are individuals smuggling goods by bribing border patrol guards and people who travel to China to visit relatives. Officials are strengthening supervision of family members with missing relatives and defectors. All security agents from the brigade visited Sanha Battalion and began a political campaign with all high ranking officers and soldiers. They emphasized that there will be severe punishment of all crimes committed at national border areas. They are also calling on residents to be vigilant. Last October 19, a meeting of neighborhood unit heads was called by security officers and the superintendent of the police department and officials were told, “There will be harsh punishment for anyone found guilty in our province (North Hamgyong Province)”. They explained that a manager at a factory in Gimchaek City was angry after being fired from his job. Instead of repenting, he took his family and two other families to South Korea on a boat. A few hours after the meeting, three families from Onsung County, Jongsung District and one family from Heoryung were caught when they tried to cross into China. On the next day, provincial national security and national border patrol brigade ordered a special patrol and strict residential management. In addition, they launched a strategic plan for all border areas against “all unemployed, anyone who was paid for their work and do not go to their workplace, anyone who doesn’t attend work, anyone with 8.3 (absentees who pay money to avoid work), anyone who does not go to work without a doctor’s note, anyone with repeated troubles, anyone with a criminal record, anyone with a defector in the family.” They ordered the head of the neighborhood units to help security agents in charge. Their instructions included a check for those who are sick and staying home from work. Neighborhood leaders were expected to talk to physicians to check the validity of an absentee’s excuse, verify how many times an individual came to visit and if the illness prevents them from working. They also need to find out in details on everyone who has traveled outside their region including their purpose, destination and people they met. Such intense security requirements are stretching the nerves of every unit and section.

Things were already tense on the border this summer during the 150-day battle, with North Korean guards showing up in the most likely and unlikely places.  The heightening of vigilance now might be ascribed to a renewed zeal by the DPRK regime to show China that it has the refugee problem firmly under control.

This idea is also borne out in a soft yet-clearly targeted KCNA dispatch which was put out during General Liang Guanglie’s recent visit to consolidate the bilateral “unbreakable (or was that unbearable?) friendship” in Pyongyang.  Kim Jong Suk, the all-purpose matronly face of the DPRK, accosts a huddle of North Korean children recently returned from Manchuria:

Warm Love Shown for Bereaved Children

Pyongyang, November 25 (KCNA) — Upon receiving the news that bereaved children of revolutionary martyrs arrived in Pyongyang from various places of east Manchuria, China, the anti-Japanese heroine Kim Jong Suk called all of them to her residence on a day of June Juche 37 (1948).

She rushed at a breath to the children entering the front gate and embraced them, saying in an emotion-charged tone: Why are you coming now from where and do you know how much effort General Kim Il Sung has made to find out your whereabouts for nearly three years following the liberation?

She also asked them in detail how many days were required to come to the motherland, by what they came, whether there were children who felt train-and car-sickness and how many children remained there.

Reading carefully their faces as if she tried to find features of her beloved fallen comrades-in-arms and gave prepared foodstuffs to every child.

Seeing a child who was wearing trousers worn out at the knees, she said that she would patch up the torn trousers. A woman official suggested that she would do it.

Kim Jong Suk said to the following effect: As the comrades-in-arms placed their children under the care of the General, when they were dying on the battlefield, I am their mother now and I must patch it up.

In the post-Kim Il Sung era, it is practically impossible for the DPRK to pose itself as a legitimately and benevolently parental force for starving children.  That the regime is able to put out propaganda which simultaneously hearkens back to “the loving care of the fatherly leader” and sends a message to China about crackdowns on cross-border traffic is, I suppose, testimony to Kim Jong Il’s ability to multitask.

Korean boys escaping from Japanese imperialism; North Korean children's book, collection of Adam Cathcart

Video Games in NK

Gaming bloggers in Great Britain, aka UK Resistance, have posted a photo gallery of a summertime video-game arcade in Pyongyang.   The photographer is anonymous, and North Korean entertainment technology, predictably enough, appears to be a couple of decades behind its neighbors.

At the Pyongyang Arcade

Hat tip to LiberateLaura [e.g., the blog focusing on Laura Ling, the best-known journalist arrested by North Korean border police in Onsung county, North Hamgyong, DPRK last March, rescued by Clinton on 4 August ].  Although that particular blog now averages a new essay posting about every two to three weeks (a bit slow by our current pace at S.V., but certainly more thoughtful!), the author’s Twitter service is really an excellent selection of North Korea news items from around the Web.

Since the arcade pictured by UK Resistance isn’t as well-funded as the Mangyongdae Children’s Palace, here is a contrasting (undated) photo of gaming activity in that model facility:

It's likely that these kids have better cardiovascular health than their Chinese counterparts -- photo via the watermark

For all the (mostly-justified) thrashing about regarding censorship of Obama’s student forum in Shanghai, it’s worth recalling that the only way Barack Obama can reach North Korean youth is through radio broadcasts which are illegal for Nroth Koreans to listen to.

Of course, the power of listening, of “lend me your ears,” is a wonderful notion which is alluded to in today’s KCNA sideswipe at American General Walter Sharp:

What the U.S. has done under the signboard of the “UN Command” is nothing but its increase of the threat to the peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and the danger of war there.

It is a strategic mistake and anachronistic daydream for the U.S. to work hard to realize its strategy for invading the DPRK and its wild ambition for dominating Asia by bolstering up its forces in south Korea, a leftover of the Cold War, and using them as a shock brigade.

No matter how noisily the U.S. bellicose forces may trumpet about the elimination of the “factor of conflict”, “protection” and “effective mechanism” in an effort to justify the existence of the illegal “UN Command” no one will lend an ear to such spate of rhetoric.

Piffle!  More commentary on the gaming story here.

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.