I’m tempted to start my own version of “Kim Jong Il Death Watch,” but that would ignore this man’s proven staying qualities. Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times) relays a report from Pyongyang, where Kim Jong Il reportedly visited two enterprises yesterday. [Another photo from later in the day, in which Kim Jong Il looks absolutely ghastly, is here.]
As a Pyongyang meeting between Kim and China’s No. 2 leader Wen Jiabao is in the cards for October 4-6, I suppose that China’s carrying this news goes slightly beyond typical courtesy. After all, what knowledgeable Chinese reader (and generally, people literate in Chinese are by definition knowledgeable even if sometimes hemmed in by mainland information blockades) would read the following sentences without spitting out their erguotou [二锅头]?
金正日表示，朝鲜劳动党以为人民创造更好的生活条件为最高目标 ( Kim Jong Il stated that the Korean Workers’ Party highest goal was to serve the people in raising living standards).
[Note: A slightly worse, but more complete, translation of Kim's remarks at the factory is available here via KCNA.]
It’s a bad joke. North Korea’s material privations are known to all Chinese, although not with the same gut-wrenching immediacy that films like Seoul Train or CNN secret-camera specials might bring forward.
At a time when China is celebrating its progress over the past 60 years, North Korea provides a quiet example of socialism’s failings, and, though China is loath to emphasize it for fear of impinging upon diplomatic goals, an implicit testimony for the justification for China’s unique path to reform.
According to U.S. State Department spokespeople, Wen Jiabao is going to Pyongyang to lecture the North Koreans for two full days about nukes, but he’s probably more likely to ink some new commercial deals for new Party members or Shandong magnates and try not to be too offensive when talking about how rich China has become since it opened up Shenzhen.
In the meantime, Kim Jong Il will, apparently, be drinking hard liquor in Pyongyang.