Commenting on the Associated Press Bureau in Pyongyang

Subcommittee of Fiction Writers in Pyongyang, Rodong Sinmun, January 2012

In reference to: Joshua Stanton, “AP Exclusive: North Koreans say Kim Jong Il is like Jesus, only bigger!,” One Free Korea [blog], April 9, 2012.

Yes, the AP should indeed have consulted a few historians about Kim Il Sung’s claims in “With the Century,” or Googled what Hwang Jong-yop had to say about Kim Il Sung’s 40-volume “Works” (neither Hwang nor the Works are mentioned in the article).  Balance could have been better achieved through some reading or interview of Cumings, or Wada Haruki, or Dae-Sook Suh, etc.  Journalists don’t always do so well with history, just like historians often stink when they try to write journalism.

My rather more specific complaint about the AP in Pyongyang is that they have done nothing for people — again, historians — outside of the DPRK who are looking for data about memories of US/UN firebombing of US cities. Of course there is never a very convenient time to examine this, but, for the time being one has to rely on sources like:

- Bruce Cumings _War and Television_, which, among other things, is a great first-person account of Cumings’ three visits to the DPRK in the 1980s which include an encounter with a dude in an elevator who had his face burned off in napalm raids, and a visit to the Sinchon Massacre site — The AP folks, and anyone, could read this text for pointers about how to disentangle lies from myth from fact from testimony from propaganda from experience from how to write about it, because it is clearly a confusing experience to be in North Korea, even when you think you know what you’re looking for.

- Another source quite useful for finding out about the present memory of Korean War bombings was presented by an AlJazeera report that rehashed the 1952 biological weapons assertions, but at least did so by going into the countryside and interviewing “survivors,” in addition to getting led around in museums and going into Manchuria as well.

Why mention either of these sources?  Because memory of war trauma is a legitimate thing in most contexts (see: Europe, W.G. Sebald, _A Natural History of Destruction_, Japan, Richard B. Frank, _Downfall_) and because its investigation in North Korea because offers the possibility of an AP story which would force the agency to navigate through the muck of propaganda but at least partially expand the field of fact in the process, which I thought was the job of journalists.

If this is impossible, then couldn’t we be upset rather because the AP has no such latitude to propose covering stories that are off the beaten track of escalation and cultural escape?

Sure, reading their publishing agreement could be interesting, but it would also be interesting to read various university agreements that allow Western academics to teach at institutions like the Pyongyong University of Science and Technology.

Where again is the harm in all this?  Is any report by a Western reporter on a tour an act of complicity, because, presumably, North Korea is getting what they want?  A great tie-in here is Laura and Lisa Ling’s engrossing (in the way that a car accident is engrossing) memoir that describes how skillfully the North Koreans used them to play the US media.  It was pure virtuosity involving Anderson Cooper being co-opted. AP is small potatoes once you’ve remote-controlled Anderson Cooper and forced Americans to realize Oprah is powerless (both are revealed in the Ling memoir, now available in paperback!).

To put it a little more bluntly, is an AP reporter responsible for a kid starving in Hwanghae province?  Or the creation of a political prisoner? Does it take more courage for a Western author to write a memoir of a North Korean escapee or a book of serious analysis about the Mass Games?

Surely there is some elusive middle ground between Anna Louise Strong and Bill Gertz?  (OK, I cannot imagine Bill Gertz in Pyongyang, at least not without a Marine Corps Division, but I do believe that he and Gordon Chang would make a wonderful team with Diane Sawyer in Pyongyang, since she already knows her way around the city’s subway system.)

To take the “complicit Western reporter in Pyongyang” point a little further, should Mike Chinoy _not_ have gotten on that boat with Kim Il Sung and Jimmy Carter in 1994?  Chinoy, after all, provided original insight into Kim Il Sung’s ease about having his GOITER photographed!  That is some quality data.  Stanton’s own exchanges with Chinoy were really valuable for the rest of us, but, unlike Chinoy’s book Meltdown itself, they did not result in an expanded knowledge of Kim Il Song’s and the North Korean press attitude toward his own most notable physical defect (defect apart from needing to wear glasses, that is — which is one very important difference which to my knowledge has never been remarked upon between the portraits of the two senior Kims and Jesus).  But I’m not complaining.

Also, if everyone (by which I really mean “American journalists”) just packed up and left Pyongyang, doesn’t that mean they’d be donning the old “Beijing filter” again? Or is the assumption that if they clear out, they would go to “free Korea” (Seoul, not Los Angeles), where it is technically illegal to read KCNA and Rodong Sinmun? Is it not necessary for AP, or any bureau for that matter, to actually read public statements by the North Korean state because it is all variations on a theme which really needs to be rebuffed via variations on Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony”?  Is it necessary for every dispatch from Pyongyang to include the word “Stalinist”?  Should books by Kang Chol Hwan and Blaine Harden be piled high in the AP bureau in Pyongyang?  Sure, why not? Neither Xinhua nor KCNA is getting the job done, and the presumptive masses of North Korean dissidents (which B.R. Myers and Stanton disagree about the existence of) get less press than 26 self-immolating Tibetans.

Actually, Stanton wins, because Jean Lee includes this paragraph in her story on Kimist religion:

“Defectors say those who oppose the party and state face imprisonment. Amnesty International estimates as many as 200,000 people are being held in North Korean labor camps today, based on satellite imagery and defector accounts. North Korea denies the existence of such gulags.”

Against 30+ paragraphs that do not mention the gulags, apparently this is insufficient.  But it is there.

The Merits of Reverse Psychology |  Perhaps instead, since they apparently plan to stay, couldn’t the AP consider trying the merits of getting relatively more access within in the DPRK by playing the North Korean game much, much harder and with more agility?

Could AP just say to their liaisons:  “Western readers need a greater sense of the irrefutable genius of Kim Jong Il?  Could you please show us more of the original manuscripts of the Dear Leader’s elementary school papers which are pictured in his official biography “?  [= "Requests to read Kim Jong il's original manuscripts where denied."]

or, “Kim Jong Suk fascinates Western readers [no need to mention how many]; would it be possible for us to sit in on a Democratic Women’s League meeting about her excellency? are North Korean women familiar with the phrase ‘Tiger Mother’?  I wonder what they think about the Chinese media finally reporting on the dominance of North Korean women in the street markets?” or “could you take us to a construction site where Democratic Women’s League work groups are moving North Korea into the gates of a strong future one wheelbarrow of one not-owned-yet-by-the-Chinese-mineral-companies-which-Victor-Cha-asserts-have-taken-over-North-Korea at a time?”  as as a part of a story focusing on NK women [= "Requests to attend Democratic Women's League meetings were denied."]

or “do you have Kim Jong Il’s original designs for this Juche tower, or are we just going to ride up and down in the thing and have to refer to the fact that Bruce Cumings was allegedly hit on by the elevator operator on his trip here in 1987 in order to make the story at least vaguely different from your 1993 pamphlets, which were lovely, by the way”?  as part of an inquiry into Kim Jong Il’s nigh-insurpassable monument building for his old man and how it compares to Kim Jong Un’s paltry efforts (“my kingdom for a horse”) in this field thus far.  [No denials necessary, this piece could be written tomorrow!]

or more coverage of specific organizations like the Kim Il Song Socialist Youth League, or of institutions like the Kim Won Gyun music conservatory, and who is up and who is down judging from relative press coverage, foreign trips, patronage in the upper echelons [= Requests to visit Kim Won Gyun Conservatory were denied," unless they aren't, and then you have to scramble to figure out why everyone loves Tchaikovsky]

or some coverage of the North Korean princelings and/or the reinforcement of the notion of Pyongyang as an island of well-fortified elites vs. a desperately poor countryside, a significant thread which has gotten pretty much submerged by all the satellite hubbub

or some coverage about Chinese diplomats and reporters in Pyongyang. Or don’t foreign delegations of reporters report on other foreign delegations of reporters?  Maybe that’s bad form.  But if Victor Cha is going to stay on his “North Korea is the same thing as a poor Chinese province” kick, it might be interesting to see if in fact Xinhua has internet access anywhere besides their hotels and at the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang. Where is Robert Kaplan with a thunderbolt when you need him?

Anyway, there are many feasible topics which the AP could go on the offensive with which would benefit analysts who are simply looking for more data points.  If they can’t provide original data, sure, why not complain?  If they have interesting facts to bring to bear (which might include bona fide evaluation of sources like “With the Century”), let them stay and do their jobs.

Cultural Power Battle Threads

From the May Fourth Generation to Today

- The Telegraph reports in alarmist fashion about Hu Jintao warning, as the newspaper headline puts it, of “cultural warfare from the West”

- A closer examination of the story indicates that Hu Jintao’s “battle cry,” above, was a speech given on October 18, 2011, that was republished yesterday in the preemminent journal for CCP theory, Qiushi (Seeking Truth / 求是).

In fact most of the speech is not at all about the West, but the need for more powerful socialist culture.  However, the key detonating sentences in this long and rather boring speech are, after a discourse on China’s rising soft power, as follows:

同时,我们必须清醒地看到,国际敌对势力正在加紧对我国实施西化、分化战略图谋,思想文化领域是他们进行长期渗透的重点领域。我们要深刻认识意识形态领域斗争的严重性和复杂性,警钟长鸣、警惕长存,采取有力措施加以防范和应对. At the same time [that we develop our cultural industries and gain international advantage thereby], we must see with utmost clarity that hostile international forces are currently stepping up the implementation of Westernization in China, attempting to do so via in a variety of strategies; their long-term focus is on infiltration [渗透/shentou] in the ideological and cultural fields. We should thoroughly understand the seriousness and complexity of this ideological struggle, remaining vigilant (lit. “always keep the bell ringing“), ever alert, and taking effective measures to prevent and respond to [the challenge of cultural infiltration].

The full text of the article is available in rough English via Google Translate here.

- My own evidentiary contribution to the discourse on Hu Jintao’s retrograde and conservative tendencies with regard his extensive work in “socialist culture” are described in this essay about some materials I found about Hu Jintao in East German archives in 2009.

- As usual, with reference to cultural diplomacy and the soft power discourse, JustRecently is already well ahead of the curve.  His website has the most extensive open-source translation available of the Party’s “cultural document”, a document which stemmed out of the same meetings at which Hu Jintao weighed in above.

- In reading headlines about Hu Jintao’s fear of Western “infiltration,” I think it’s important to note that there are far more nuanced Chinese examinations of soft power out there.  PRC scholar He Zengke published a rather wide-ranging article this past December 23 in a reformist journal surveying French and German modes of exerting soft power, noting:

France was one of the first countries to understand the role of cultural soft power. Napoleon once said that a pen was equal to 1,000 Mauser rifles*), and a former French minister of culture said that culture and the economy are one and the same battleground. French people believe that a cultural mission can take the place of a country’s military power.[9] In 1883, France established the Alliance Française to promote French culture. Starting in 1959, France began to define the “First Five-Year Plan for the Expansion of French Cultural Activities”, and afterwards, 25- and 35-year plans etc. were gradually developed. From the total amounts spent and per capita, France belongs to the first-ranking countries worldwide.[10] From that, it can be seen that France attaches great importance to the development and use of soft power.

法国是最早懂得文化软实力的地位和作用的国家之一。拿破仑曾经说过,一支笔等于1000支毛瑟枪。法国前文化部长曾经说过:文化和经济是同一场战斗。 法国人认为,文化使命可以代替国家武力。[9]1883年法国就建立了法语联盟,在世界各地讲授法语,推广法国文化。从1959年起,法国开始制定“关于 在国外扩张和恢复法国文化活动的第一个五年计划”(1959-1963),后来又陆续制定了“二五”、“三五”计划等。法国的国际文化交流支出从总数和人 均来看都居于世界第一的位置。[10]由此可见法国对发展和运用文化软实力的高度重视。[Translation here by JustRecently]

He’s essay reminds us again:

-For all the huffing and puffing about Confucius Institutes, the “hanban” is still behind such institutions as the Alliance Française when it comes to enrollments and influence globally, a fact which I reported in July 2010 (from a cafe in Seoul, awash in K-pop, WiFi signals, kimchee and bubble tea) via a translation of a Huanqiu Shibao interview with the Hanban head.

- Finally, the magazine Monocle (which I fittingly tend to read in international airports; this one was in Tokyo) recently did some comprehensive “soft power ratings” in which the US was #1 but France not far behind.  China, by the way, was #17.

Yalu River Notes: On Dandong

North Korea's Hong Kong? Perhaps. Image courtesy Shijie Zhishi, linked well below.

An empty optics firm looms on the horizon on the dirt-torn and perpetually expanding fringes of Xinchengqu, the new city being built southwest of Dandong. Photo by Adam Cathcart; click on the photo for more pictures.

The following is a cross-post from  And King Tubby (a regular commenter on both this site and David Bandurski’s essential China Media Project) points out a new Los Angeles Times article that deals with the matter of North Korean capitalism from a different angle. 

Along the frontier between North Korea’s North Hamgyong province and the PRC’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Region, journalists, according to Chosun Ilbo, have been encountered problems with Chinese police.

Not so for Jeremy Page of the Wall Street Journal, who files a report which, amid all the other often completely baseless bloviating about rumors in Pyongyang, actually points the way forward to change of a sort in North Korea.

Entitled “Trade Binds North Korea to China,” Page’s dispatch virtually lays out a blueprint for further research and observation.

Among the questions prompted by Page’s work: Are North Korean cross-border traders an effective and powerful interest group in the DPRK today?  Is their relationship to provincial officials in North Hamgyong and North Pyong’an adversarial or symbiotic?  Does Jang Song-taek represent the interests of the trading elite, or an otherwise “pro-China” or “China-leaning” faction in Pyongyang? And, to be just a bit insouciant, why do the North Korean officials in or passing through Yanji prefer the Liujiang Hotel (which does not have a DPRK state-affiliated restaurant) when they could stay at the Rason Hotel (which assuredly does)?

To answer the question about Jang Song-Taek and the “new” (in the sense of “newly emergent”) Pyongyang elite and their relationship with China, it behooves us to look at the players on the Chinese side.

Dandong Leadership Watch (Part I) 

Last week at SinoNK, we discussed the role of the past Vice-Director for Public Security in Yanbian, and today, the provincial official in focus is the Secretary of the Dandong CCP Committee, Dai Yulin.

Dai Yulin / 戴玉林, CCP Party Secretary in Dandong

The highest-ranking CCP provincial and city leaders, or the most successful ones at least, are technocrats, and they tend toil away in provinces distant from their personal power bases.  Dai Yulin, born in 1959, is indeed a technocrat — with a doctorate in finance and two subsequent professorships in the same field — but he has been firmly entrenched in Liaoning province since at least the late 1980s, operating primarily within the tri-cornered circuit between Shenyang, Dalian, and Dandong.

In other words, he is a peninsular creature — that is to say, of the Liaoning peninsula, that economic counterweight to Kyonggi-do, which has the western part of North Korea caught in a kind of inevitable pincer of economic ties.

In particular, Dai is a Dalian man, having arrived there in 2001 and being promoted to vice mayor to the gregarious Bo Xilai [son of Bo Yibo], China’s most famous “princeling” and now in charge of Chongqing, in 2008.  Dai’s success in Dalian — a city which, in spite of three massive oil spills and a major chemical spill in the past 14 months of so, foreign columnists like Thomas Friedman still like to depict as a kind of ecotopia worthy of emulation by American mayors — resulted in his being thrown into Dandong at the unique historical juncture of August 2010, as plans began to materialize for accelerated ties with North Korea.  He was re-upped for the position by the CCP Party Congress in Beijing in July 2011.

Dai’s new office is in Xinchengqu; the entire city government has been moved out there.  The famous Yalu River bridge, as was pointed out by Tang Longwen in a very nice Shijie Zhishi article earlier this year, is a relic of Japanese imperialism, and hardly has the capacity for the kind of extensive mega-city and multi-national trade that China ultimately has planned to flow via Liaoning and North Pyong’an and onward to Pyongyang and points well south and east.  In other words, Dai’s new office is near the new $250 million bridge to Korea, which was reported on by the present author in dispatches from Dandong in June (here) and August of 2011.

(More photos of the construction in Xinchengqu are here, and then subsequently with more documents, thanks to Curtis, at NK Economy Watch).

By way of closing the argument about local ties and the relation of Chinese provincial officials to Pyongyang,  this analysis from September 2011 bears repeating in full:

At first I wondered: even in the midst of North Korea’s biggest wave of Chinese aid and investment since 1958, isn’t it a little bit unusual for the mayor of Dandong to go to Pyongyang?  And for KCNA to throw down not one, but three stories about the friendly visit?

And then I read a new piece in the Daily NK (which unlike so many DailyNK stories has much more than a just single source breathing rumors into a borderland cell phone) which describes a major purge going on in Sinuiju and surrounding North Pyong’an province.

…Occasionally one’s cross-border counterparts will simply disappear, and with them the claims to capacity or access of various kinds.

For Chinese officials in the northeastern provinces, the lesson is clear: always have friends in Pyongyang (preferably a handshake away from the Dear Leader), because the provincial cadre (even the ones you took out to karaoke, warbling away on the Dandong riviera) may not have your back after all.

And regardless of what North Korea does, money in the meantime is still flowing in Dandong, the little city with international ambitions. Not to veer into boosterism, but the city has indeed created an attractive investment environment for electronics and flat-screen manufacturers; a recent visit to the city of a representative from Philips was a focal point for Dai Yulin on December 15.

The interest in Sinuiju and the new Special Economic Zone — passed into law by the DPRK only on December 9 — is properly the subject of another post, one which will probably introduce SinoNK’s new Economic Analyst, Alan Ferrie.


The Online Side of “Social Management” in China

The China Media Project at Hong Kong University was kind enough to host yours truly last June at a conference on new media and journalism in East Asia, and they continue, frankly, to impress the hell out of me.  It is both a testimony to the importance of the China Media Project and the need for more emulation of this program that CMP remains one of the few truly bilingual outfits out there endeavoring to penetrate through the fog and get straight to the point of what Chinese people are being presented as “news” and setting down to analyze it.

David Bandurski, the driving force (along with Director Qian Gang, a flinty and no-nonsense veteran reporter) of the China Media Project, weighs in with an analysis and translation regarding recent moves to further control the Internet in China:

Since President Hu Jintao’s address at People’s Daily in June 2008, the concept of “public opinion channeling,” or yulun yindao (舆论引导), has been a central part of the Party’s press control strategy. It implies a more modern, slightly more savvy approach to traditional “public opinion guidance,” the notion (born in June 1989) that the Party must enforce its political line in the media in order to maintain social and political stability and Party rule.

“Public opinion channeling,” which CMP Director Qian Gang has called “Control 2.0,” focuses not just on restricting information but ensuring that the Party’s own authoritative version of the facts predominates. In other words, information can no longer be simply controlled through traditional censorship tactics — it has to be actively spun as well.

For Bandurski’s translation of the Wang Chen editorial — not really delightful reading, but rather important in my estimation — click here.  The New York Times blog has another fine piece on a similar theme.

Finally, it’s worth noting that while People’s Daily and other Party views of this theme are going to be wildly divergent from most readers of this blog, China’s use of information technologies to render smoother the process of “social management” is being noted, quite possibly with emulation in mind, by North Korean friends in Pyongyang.

Depressing?  Try a feel-good tale about NBA stars playing in China and loving it.  Nothing like a little post-brawl sports journalism to act as a balm over any and all wounds and cultural misunderstandings.  As the Beijing Ducks shooting guard and China Daily columnist likes to say, “It’s a beautiful thing when you can tell your own story.”

Related Post (w/ photos of the direct predecessors of the above): Adam Cathcart, “The Yanan Spirit of Journalism,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 9 November 2009.

Inspector O is Not in the Office: Tracing a Traffic Accident Near Pyongyang

The story has made virtually no waves in English, Chinese, or Korean, but perhaps that is the point:

On November 26, apparently within minutes of one another, two separate buses full of “a Chinese business delegation” and “a Chinese tourist group” crashed on an icy road 60 km from Pyongyang, killing six Chinese and two North Koreans.

This according to the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, which rapidly reported the news on its website and said the North Korean authorities were doing everything they could to help the other victims of the crash, some of whom were moved to the Friendship Hospital in Pyongyang.  Ambassador Liu Hongcai got very busy indeed, going to the scene of the accident and linking up with various North Korean bureaucrats.

The next day, the body count went up: one Chinese and another North Korean died in the hospital.  At this point, Xinhua picked up on the story, and Liu Hongcai sent his councilor Jiang Yaxian to stand in front of the bomb-proof Chinese embassy in Pyongyang to make a short statement for CCTV).

On November 28, the tourists and “businessmen” who were not badly wounded returned to China, some by air and others by train to Sinuiju, where they then got on more buses to cross the Friendship Bridge into Dandong.  What a nice surprise to find that there were three Dutch people on the tourist delegation; that had not been reported prior. No one knows in which direction from Pyongyang the bus was coming, nor what the two groups were doing precisely besides “being tourists.”

This incident interests me because it happened precisely when Xinhua and KCNA were inking their new mutual understanding and cooperation. KCNA clearly pledges to continue reporting daily news about China to the North Korean people (along the lines of supporting China’s modernization, party building and ethnic unity policies) while Xinhua clearly pledges to tone down negative reporting about North Korea within the PRC.  KCNA also pledged to start a Chinese-language service, which they did on December 1.  And since these meetings, we have seen almost a total absence of critical items in the Chinese press about North Korea. Certainly the CCP will turn up the heat again when they need to, but for the time being, the information environment is one where the CCP Propaganda Ministry (surely with the support of the Foreign Ministry) is trying to consolidate its gains with the DPRK and going easy on, for instance, North Korea’s new assertions that things are going great with their Light Water Reactors.

There was no original reporting allowed of the incident from Pyongyang; that is, a single short Xinhua dispatch went out and was not elaborated upon by anyone.  The Chinese reporters in Pyongyang wrote nothing.  The Chinese Embassy has been the sole source of information about this incident, the sum total of which is about ten sentences.

Why does this matter?  Because such incidents have the power to rile up Chinese public opinion very quickly, mushrooming into a storm of criticism of both North Korea and the way in which China handles its alliance with that country.  Netizen comments on the story on Sohu website focused in on the question of corruption, asserting that the “business delegation” was a bunch of lazy and corrupt cadre from the Chinese provinces off spending public funds in the DPRK.  Other netizens were quick to critique the very notion of China promoting tourism in North Korea, calling Pyongyang “the equivalent of a second-rate Chinese city in the 1980s” and underscoring North Korean dictatorship.

Imagine the firestorm that would occur if seven Chinese tourists were killed in Japan, particularly if there were some implication of Japanese negligence or wrong doing.

How did this accident occur?  Why would two buses, minutes apart, essentially crash in the same place?  Who are the North Koreans who were killed?  Why did the Chinese embassy release the basic information right away, and then have no further reporting on the issue?

The need to fill the empty space and questions with some kind of neutral if not helpful content for the Chinese was seen in the dispatch sent by the PRC Embassy in Pyongyang on Nov. 28, describing two tearful Chinese in the Pyongyang hospital who, when the Chinese ambassador came to visit them, demanded that Liu Hongcai convey a few packs of cigarettes and hard liquor to the tomb of the unknown Chinese solider in North Korea, recalling the deep bonds of mutual obligation and protection forged during the Korean War.

Chinese People's Volunteers monument in South Pyong'an, DPRK, photo courtesy Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, liquor and cigarettes courtesy Tupac Shakur/Chinese traffic accident victims

I am very curious to see where this story goes.

For the time being, all relevant links to the facts and interpretations above, including the Netizen responses, are on my Twitter feed (not that I have attention deficit disorder, quite the contrary: I’m off to San Diego where I may meet with a few experts whose views may or may not be shared later on the blog).  Careful out there on those roads.

Rethinking “China’s Peaceful Rise”

Although I occasionally mourn my inability to be in two places at once — as Sichuan and Tibet come immediately to mind — the benefits of being in the Puget Sound region in the autumn, I now recall, are multiple, as these perks include the ability to spend time talking with, and hearing from, Sidney Rittenberg.

A new film project, “The Revolutionary” — a preliminary screening of which I was able to attend in Tacoma — calls Rittenberg “the most important foreigner in China since Marco Polo.”

Rittenberg has subsequently undertaken a lecture series on the campus where he and I are both members of the Chinese Studies faculty — Pacific Lutheran University.  The intersection of Rittenberg’s vast experience and unique deep background on China along with our students is enjoyable to observe and to navigate.  One of the most interesting juxtapositions of worldviews comes when with military backgrounds get a chance to think through the elder Rittenberg’s assessment of China’s place in the world, and the global outlook for what some folks call “China’s peaceful rise” (or what students with a DoD connection, urged on by events and information, might rather call “China’s peaceful rise with aircraft carriers and ICBMs”).

Today I received a truly interesting communication from one of my students growing out of Rittenberg’s lecture, and I thought it might serve as a solid pretext for “breaking out of the [writer's] blockade” which I seem to have imposed myself recently upon this blog.


During Sidney Rittenburg’s lecture he portrayed a very (as we stated in class) rosy view of China especially on the military side. In short, he stated that the idea of Chinese imperialism does not fit the culture of China. The one exception he provided is Chinese territories (Taiwan, Tibet, ect.). Over the years, China has used many forms of soft power to force nations to recognize the “One China Policy” and deal primarily with the PRC over the ROC.

Sidney also recognized the danger of growing ultra-nationalists (especially amongst the youth of China) and their affect on China’s foreign policy.

I was wondering what your thoughts were on the possibility of ultra-nationalists (or even moderates) within the government extending the “One China Policy” to other areas within East Asia under the precursor of China’s historical ownership over the land and how China’s soft-power can be defined as a form of Chinese neo-imperialism ultra-nationalists may utilize to carry out their agenda.

Thank you for your thoughts. I understand this is a complex question.I have a reason why I am asking this question that I may be able to discuss with you later in the semester. In short it has to do with the strategy used in weiqi.

Before dropping down a fuller answer, and in its stead, I cannot recommend highly enough this piece from Foreign Policy on the form and function of the Global Times or Huanqiu Shibao, one of the foremost means by which China could and does justify its policy of military growth. [Update: In keeping with the heavy comments that follow this particular post, Global Times has a riposte to the Foreign Policy summary of its activities available here in English; Kaiser Kuo's always-worthwhile Sinica podcast this week covers the same issue in style and itself links to one final takedown of Huanqiu Shibao's "Top 10 Screeds" and take-no-prisoners editorial style.]

New European Perspectives on North Korea

North Korean elites attend a football exhibition practice for German guests in Pyongyang, April 2011 - image courtesy Claudia Roth, German Green Party -- click image for her photo gallery from Pyongyang

North Korea watchers are having a bit of a dry spell of late: the biggest stories of Kim Jong Eun’s succession are now a year in the rear view mirror, 38North is precisely unlike a good methadone clinic (it acknowledges one’s addiction but is frustratingly irregular in slaking it), the Daily NK keeps churning out pieces about rice prices, and the reliably crotchety, pro-rollback, and better-read-than-most blog of choice — One Free Korea — appears to have vacated the trenches for the foreseeable.  What’s a North Korea watcher to do?

Well,that is, besides read Noland and Haggard’s outrageously-well-informed stuff, or hunt for Andrei Lankov, or peruse Richard Horgan’s Twitter feeds, or peck through Korean Central News Agency dispatches, or tail the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang?

For solid analysis and copious links, I recommend the blog Nordkorea-info (today’s entry is on cellular and internet technology in the DPRK), a blog which recently carried a very interesting entry about a German football delegation to Pyongyang.

Although the aforesaid football delegation did its legwork back in April, the reports have just become public, and they are fascinating reading.  I did some interpreting of the report in English on Nordkorea-info, which can be accessed here.

Thanks to the serendipity of the Internet, I managed to run across this rather interesting combination-documentary about some foreigners in Pyongyang, which readers may find as interesting as I have: