Afghan Mirage

夜视镜下的现代战争

Deployments can be brutal, but sometimes it can be very liberating to follow a vague command, pick up your body and your portable office, and just dump the whole mess in a random European city.  For instance, Reykjavik.  Yes, for some reason which is truly unknown to me, I’m sitting this evening in Iceland’s long midnight twilight, reading a weird but healthy pastiche of Le Monde, Liberation, Zhongguo Meishubao, a scholarly monograph on Jewish musicians in Berlin in the 1930s, and Simone de Beauvoir’s immense dissertation on postwar lassitude and the French left, the obsessively repetitive yet often brilliant novel Les Mandarines.

Well, as a good friend of mine would say, “Whatever, jackass.”  Let’s just  focus on Le Monde and Afghanistan,shall we?  And perhaps the original salient point on perspectives will become clear enough, and possibly even refreshing, like a volcanic lagoon or a fresh laceration.

The New York Times brings the noise yet again, where, in a headline promising progress in Afghanistan, American journalists basically act as good foot soldiers for yet another wartime president. Note that, after a bit of “lessons learned” talk from Marja, the catch phrases employed here in the NYT, nine years after the war first started, seem to basically endorse U.S. strategy in Afghanistan:

The prospect of a robust military push in Kandahar Province, which had been widely expected to begin this month, has evolved into a strategy that puts civilian reconstruction efforts first and relegates military action to a supportive role….

[According to] the Afghan National Army officer in charge [in Kandahar], Gen. Sher Mohammad Zazai. “[The alleged U.S. offensive] is actually a partnership operation.” [...]

Mr. Karzai promised local people that there would not be a Kandahar offensive. “You don’t want an offensive, do you?” he asked the crowd, to general acclamation. “There will be no operation until you are happy.”

Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak said the new approach was adopted after officials considered the mistakes made in Marja and the much larger scale of Kandahar.

“We have learned lessons, also, which we will apply in the future,” he said in an interview this week. “About Kandahar, it is a different type operation…it is not going to be that kinetic.” (Kinetic is military jargon to describe fighting.)

Instead, the emphasis has been placed on strengthening provincial reconstruction teams…The idea [for which], said Frank Ruggiero, the senior United States Embassy official in the south, is to make sure “the government at the most basic level, the district level, is able to provide some services so that people who are sitting on the fence are able to say, well, the government has something to offer.”

There’s nothing wrong per se with this mode of reporting.  It essentially passes along the military line, and , to the extent that a critiquing position of the policy is offered, it is purely an auto-critique.   But does that type of coverage offered by the Times serve the interests of the soldiers, some of whom are my students, others of whom are French Legionnaires I met on the Paris Metro, others of whom suit up at the Cathcart Armory in Montreal before taking off?

Contrast the above story, in America’s paper of record, with today’s front-page editorial offered by Le Monde entitled “Dialogue Without Naive Illusions”:

L’Union soviétique avait tenu dix ans. Combien de temps tiendront les Etats-Unis et leurs alliés de l’OTAN ? L’Afghanistan, ce “cimetière des empires”, est en train de miner à la fois les ressources et le moral de l’Occident. Plus de neuf ans après l’intervention américaine contre le régime taliban (au pouvoir de 1996-2001), précipitée par les attentats du 11 septembre 2001, les grands espoirs de reconstruction de l’Afghanistan ont fait long feu. A mesure que l’insurrection des talibans se consolide, le découragement gagne. Le sentiment d’échec s’installe. Et les appels au dialogue, à la négociation avec la rébellion talibane se multiplient. Chacun admet que la solution ne sera pas militaire, mais politique.

or, in my translation,

The Soviet Union lasted ten years.  How long will the U.S. and its NATO allies remain?  Afghanistan, the “graveyard of empires,” is on the path at once to drain [miner /消沉] the financial and moral resources of the West.  More than nine years after the American intervetion against the Taliban regime (in power from 1996-2001), preciptated by the attacks of 11 September 2001, the great hopes of reconstructing Afghanistan have long been delayed/laid on the pyre.  Stimulated by the consolidating insurrection of the Taliban, discouragement has won out.  And the appeals for dialogue and negotiation with the Taliban rebellion are multiplying.  Everyone admits that the solution cannot be military, but [must instead be] political.

Etc., etc.

American papers do not necessarily need front-page editorials of this ilk to awaken a kind of heightened consciousness of Afghanistan, but a fuller appraisal of the whole enterprise, as opposed to a basic re-reading of the most recent Pentagon press releases, might be considered helpfully provocative.

After all, what’s worse: not knowing why you’ve left, or realizing you’ve stayed too long?

Kefalik Peninsula, Iceland -- photo by Adam Cathcart

US-China: Le Grand Refroidissement

Precisely one year ago, Le Monde asked in an uncharacteristically blaring headline: “US-Chine: Le Grande Refroidissement? [US-China: The Great Re-Freeze?]” Well, today that article appears to be rather prescient. From Taiwan to Google to the Dalai Lama to pending and present trade disputes, there is more than enough acrimony to go around. Perhaps this means that French journalism and commentary about East Asia generally, and China more specifically, needs to be paid greater heed. And I shall do my part, Gaul!

Liberation, the paper said to have been founded by the great wartime author Jean-Paul Sartre (hey, wasn’t he also a philosopher who went to China with his would-be lover Simone du Beauvoir in 1956?) carries a handful of excellent analyses, including:

China-US: The Infernal Couple,” a look at the “coup de griffe”/small assaults or mutual provocations of late, asserting that if the world is indeed going to be led by a “G2″ or a “Chinamerica,” that we’re all in for a rough ride. Moreover, the paper’s analysis of China’s newly apparent assertiveness combines notes from recent Washington Post editorials and an understanding of Nicholas Sarkozy’s reluctance to speak out more publicly against Chinese policy in Tibet, for instance.

Philippe Grangereau, no strange name on this blog, lays out the case most explicitly in “The New Arrogance of Superpower China.” He writes:

Les réactions de la République populaire de Chine aux ventes d’armes américaines à Taiwan sont habituellement musclées ; mais la menace d’imposer des sanctions à l’encontre d’entreprises américaines va, cette fois, bien au-delà de ce qui était attendu. Ce coup-de-poing sur la table ne fait que confirmer le coming out d’une Chine perçue comme de plus en plus arrogante, triomphaliste et orgueilleuse.

or

The PRC’s reactions to the American sale of arms to Tawain are typically muscular, but the threat of imposing sanctions against American companies is, this time, goes further than had been expected. This fist-pounding on the table serves only to confirm the “coming out” of a China which is seen as increasingly arrogant, triumphalist, and proud.

He then goes on to quote Charles Grant from a London think-tank:

«Depuis l’an dernier, le comportement de la Chine a changé. Des personnalités nationalistes et des partisans d’une ligne relativement dure du pouvoir paraissent avoir marginalisé ceux qui ont des instincts plus libéraux et internationalistes», écrit dans une récente analyse Charles Grant, le directeur du Centre pour la réforme européenne (CER), un think tank basé à Londres relevant que «ce changement conduit les gouvernements et les institutions européennes à revoir leurs stratégies vis-à-vis de la Chine».

“Since last year, China’s behavior has changed….etc.”

Grangereau goes on to quote Marie Holzmann, who says, roughly, “For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, the planet has a new composition wherein we have a great anti-democratic power, but now this time the world lacks the will to again air its conscience («Pour la première fois depuis la chute de l’Union soviétique, la planète doit à nouveau composer avec une grande puissance antidémocratique mais le monde n’en a pas encore pleinement conscience»).

Une affiche met en garde, en 2006, à l'entrée d'un cyber-café chinois. Avec comme «bras armé» un département de la propagande du Parti et un bureau d'information du Conseil d'État, la Chine surveille de près la Toile. Et, les réseaux sociaux tels que Facebook, Twitter, ou celui de partage de vidéos, YouTube, y sont interdits. Crédits photo : ASSOCIATED PRESS-- via Arnaud de la Grange, Le Figaro

Arnaud de la Grange lays out an extensive article about Chinese internet repression in Le Figaro.

While much of de la Grange’s article is already known to readers of this blog (due of course to their extreme erudition and marked sophistication in the seeking out of quality journalism, analysis, and organic salsa), he does make a couple of unique points at the end of his piece:

Sur les forums chinois, de nombreux internautes s’insurgent contre cette nouvelle contrainte, en se demandant quel espace de leur vie privée va rester un tant soit peu à l’écart des caméras ou logiciels espions. «Qu’ils bloquent des sites pornographiques, pourquoi pas, mais là ce sont nos échanges privés qu’ils scrutent, c’est inadmissible», s’indigne une jeune femme ingénieur. Pour Jerely Goldkorn, éditeur du site Danwei.org sur les médias et l’Internet chinois, «cela ressemble à un vrai programme de prise de contrôle totale de toutes les nouvelles formes de médias, l’une après l’autre».

La censure a ses effets boomerang. Un autre étudiant raconte que depuis septembre, avec la mise hors service des proxys habituels, il s’est comme bien d’autres tourné vers des logiciels de contournement plus sophistiqués. Et notamment ceux fournis par le Global Internet Freedom Consortium, un organisme basé aux États-Unis… et proche du mouvement Falun Gong, bête noire de Pékin. «Les autorités offrent une visibilité et une sympathie inespérée au Falun Gong», constate un observateur. Comme d’autres organismes américains, le consortium se veut être l’équivalent moderne de Voice of America. En développant des technologies offrant à tous l’accès au bruit du monde, non plus par les ondes, mais par les câbles d’Internet.

In the Chinese forums, a number of netizens are insurgent against the new constraints, and demand space for their private lives which rest under the gaze of the cameras or espionage. “Sure they block the pornographic sites, why not?,” says one indignant young female engineer. “But if they are scrutinizing my private exchanges, that’s unacceptable.” For Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of the site Danwei.org which covers Chinese media and internet, “this resembles a real program to take total control of all of the forms of new media, one after the other.”

Censorship and its effects will boomerang….etc.

And finally, Liberation covers the Obama-Dalai Lama angle in a story with more than 100 comments by “internautes,” or French internet users. Given all the attention paid to Chinese “netizens” and the ultimate desire to “bridge blog” our way into a real global conversation, I can only imagine how interesting it would be to translate and combine these French comments along with comments by Chinese Global Times readers into a single Anglophone stream. Dalai Lama: wolf or man of god? The only middle ground on this issue is probably under several million cubic tons of water in the Indian Ocean. Perhaps someday technology will make it possible for readers of the Chinese press to read the French press and vice versa, but in the meantime I will keep working here with my equivalent of the old Smith Corona to give you all what I got in saccadee Anglophone style.

Related Post: “Dalai Lama in Paris: A Commentary on Elections and Propaganda

via "Electro," on Le Monde's recently completely gorgeous China (photo)blog

French Press: East Asia Tropes

Le Monde Diplomatique (法国世界外交论衡月刊)is one of the more thoughtful periodicals from the French perspective on foreign affairs, available (partially) here in English (中文版打这儿).   The compendium of foreign affairs essays has a good track record of covering the North Korean perspective from various perspectives, to wit: 

This essay by Chinese scholar Shen Dingli (of Fudan University in Shanghai, much hated on by rollback blogs like Joshua Stanton’s) argues that North Korea, even if an unwelcome nuclear power, remains a serious asset to Chinese security, holding down tens of thousands of American troops, keeping the pressure off of Taiwan, and keeping the Northeast border relatively stable (give or take a few thousand unarmed/partially clothed refugees).  This kind of vigorous defense of the status quo  doesn’t often hit the stands in English, but here it is. 

The periodical also carries essays by the omnipresent American “revisionist” scholar, Bruce Cumings, whose work doesn’t lose a whit of elegence when rendered into French.    Of interest in this essay of Cumings’, published in October 2007 on the eve of the ill-fated summit between Kim Jong-Il and Roh Moo-Hyun in Pyongyang, is the latter part of the essay where the scholar recounts how the Bush administration to an axe to the Sunshine Policy via “une provocation absurde”, that is, to call North Korea part of an “axis of evil” (“axe du mal.”) 

Probably the most interesting and extensive essay I’ve found thus far on LMD is this in-depth examination by Suki Kim of the soft-power extravaganza of the New York Philharmonic visit to Pyongyang.  Recounting a party at U.S. Ambassador to China Clark Randt’s house prior to the voyage to Pyongyang, the article reminds us of how vested in the New York Phil trip (and thus a kind of American “sunshine policy”) the Bush administration had become by the twilight of its second term.   And sure, the article is a translation from the English of “A Really Big Show” which had been printed in Dec. 2008 in Harper’s, but I think this article is significant also from the standpoint of giving French audiences and intellectuals fodder for thought in the light of France’s ongoing diplomatic and cultural offensive toward the DPRK

As much as I respect — and I certainly respect — conservatives like Dana Rohrabacher for their work on North Korean human rights issues, the kind of anti-French vitriol that seems to have become de rigeur in certain political circles in the U.S. is wholly inappropriate when it comes to North Korean issues. 

French authors and journalists are doing excellent work on North Korea, and most of their stuff doesn’t make it into English, like this collection of short stories about five Korean women by the prize-winning author Eun Hee-Kyong.   

A noteable exception is Kang Chol-hwan’s iconic memoir, The Aquariums of Pyongyang, which began life as a French-language memoir that, though some miracle of publishing, made it into English and subsequently into the hands of President George W. Bush.  I didn’t hear anyone complaining then about generous cultural subsidies in Paris or how French cultural arrogance.  Kang’s was the first in what we can hope will be a long line of influential and useful French texts on North Korea that make their way into English (and Chinese, for that matter!).   

George W. Bush welcomes the author of the Francophone memoir, Les Aquariums du Pyongyang, to the Oval Office during the push to pass the North Korean Human Rights Act - viva le droit de l'homme!

Speaking of translations, a good place to keep tabs on for upcoming publications and themes around global reception of Chinese culture more broadly arrives in the form of the University of Provence Extrem-Orient/Far East squad in southern France.

And the journal Perspectives Chinois drills down into the Tibet issue with much success, via the Centre d’Études Français sur la Chine contemporaine [French Center for Research of Contemporary China/法国现代中国研究中心], including a review of a giant and important tome I have been slowly reading for the last four months, Melvyn Goldstein’s A History of Modern Tibet, Vol. II. 

Disclosure: Goldstein was a direct influence on my development as an Asianist; I studied Chinese at Case Western Reserve University while he was running his programs at full steam, and lived with Tsewang Nagmyal Shelling, Goldstein’s foremost collaborator (and a former member of the Tibetan Government) and his Tibetan family for about two years.  But that’s a story for a different day… 

Le Monde Diplo runs a few blogs which facilitate shorter essays like “Apocalyse, Year Zero?” about nuclear arms control. 

Finally, Pascalle Nivelle reports on Le Monde’s China blog on gangsters that seem to have taken over a Macau-style casino being built on the Laos-PRC frontier with overseas labor, including North Korean workers

Well, I’ve got about 15 more, but time’s a’wasting, and I’m already behind in translating “Chine-Japon: Le grade rechauffement?” from Le Figaro so that y’all can figure out just what the hell China’s nationalistic mouthpiece, the Huanqiu Shibao, is fulminating about these days.  That, and Nadia Boulanger is kicking my ass…

Cultural Destruction in Kashgar [II]

This summer I translated “Cultural Demolition in Kashgar,” a French story from the dynamic Paris left-wing newspaper Liberation which attracted a wide number of readers via Danwei.org and ended up on the reading list of a number of overseas Uighur organizations.

Today Le Monde‘s China blog releases a large cache of similar photos which, for readers following Xinjiang and China’s West, may be of great interest.

via Le Monde

People's Square, Kashgar, via Le Monde

Le Monde Reports on Laura Ling and Euna Lee

Le Monde conducts its own investigation of Euna Lee and Laura Ling’s cross-border excursion, arrest by North Korean troops, and the consequent chaotic aftermath among South Korean aid organizations working in Northeast China.  The article, by experienced Asia correspondent Philippe Pons, isn’t laden with bombshells, but it remains nevertheless potentially an important part of the record.

Philippe Pons, “Enquête: Deux héroïnes très contestées [Investigation: two very controversial heroines], Le Monde, 9 September 2009. [Rough translation by Adam Cathcart]

After a long silence, the two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, freed in early August thanks to Bill Clinton after four months in captivity in North Korea for their “illegal entry,” recount their misadventure in the Los Angeles Times.   Received by media in the United States like heroines, animated by the mission to “shed light in the darkness,” according to their expression, the two journalists , in the eyes of one party of South Koreans,   were “irresponsible” and put networks of humanitarian organizations in danger operating on the Chinese frontier to aid North Korean refugees.

Working in March for the American television network Current TV, they were making a report about North Korean refugees in the region of the Tumen River, which marks the frontier between China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  They recall having crossed the frozen river, at the instigation of their guide, to walk on the North Korean coast.

[QUOTE from L.A. Times editorial]

Arrested, the two women were interrogated and condemned to 12 years of hard labor for “illegal entry” and “hostile acts” against the DPRK.  They were not sent to a work camp, but were brought to another detention area which is uncertain.  [Ed.:  For speculation on the site of their detention in Pyongyang, see ROK Drop.]

During the long winters in the region, the Tumen is frozen.  Nothing here definitively indicates the frontier.  To cross is easy, but one takes the risk which, in terms of information, does not “pay.”  While they admirably hoped to “shed a bit of light” on a closed state, why was it such an essential thing to briefly set foot on North Korean soil?

“Their act was irresponsible,” says an individual, who wishes to remain anonymous, who runs one of the South Korean organizations which provides clandestine aid to refugees.  “It not only endangered the refugees by putting film into the hands of Chinese and North Korean police who in the future will recognize their faces, but it also endangered the networks which try to aid [the refugees].  Because of the journalists, work on the frontier has become more dangerous, and the refugees are the ones who suffer.”

Among the tens of thousands of North Koreans who have passed into China, some are migrants who seek work and return to the DPRK; the others are refugees who desire to go on to Seoul.  China considers all such immigrants illegal and, conforming to the 1960 accord between the two states, rends them back to the DPRK, where they are more or less severely punished as a function of their having passed into recidivism or having had contact in China with South Korean christian organizations.

If they are not taken by the hand [pris en main] by the humanitarian organizations, they risk deception by smugglers who promise them false papers.  The female migrants can become prizes on the “market of women,” which sells them to Chinese bachelors or into prostitution networks.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee recall how, once arrested, they destroyed the list of their contacts and effaced the images in their camera.  But the pastor Lee Chan-woo who works in Yanji (about sixty kilometers from the frontier), declared to the South Korean press that, two hours days after they were arrested, his house was searched, while five clandestine orphanages with 20 Sino-North Korean children were closed by the police.

“These children,” he says, born of the union of Koreans and Chinese, “have already been forcefully separated from their repatriated mothers by the Chinese police, and now experience a new trauma due to the hunt for the orphanages of the humanitarian organizations,” comments Tim Peter, who directs Seoul Helping Hands Korea.

“I did my best to aid the journalists who had seen me a few days before,” recalls Pastor Lee.  “I asked them not to film the kids.  I don’t know for sure that they did that,” he continues, describing how the Chinese police in their interrogation mentioned that they could prove his activities via confiscated videos.  “It is thanks to the videos, also the notes and the contact lists of the two journalists and the director (who, along with the guide, escaped the North Korean soldiers but was arrested in China) that the orphanages were discovered,” continues Pastor Lee, who was expelled from China.   [Note: Mitch Koss, usually signified in English-language reports as a lowly "cameraman," is described here by Pastor Lee as a "director" or réalisateur.]

Chun Ki-won, the director of the Durihana Association in Seoul, who introduced Pastor Lee to the journalists, asserts he had warned them to be on guard about the risks which they were taking and which they would take by  by running with contacts who would cross the river.

According to Tim Peter, “it is irresponsible to have crossed the river, if only for one minute.  But the much greater tragedy is without doubt the  information obtained from the journalists by the North Koreans and the information that was furnished to the Chinese police by their guide after his arrest.  He appears to have been a North Korean informer.”

Irrespective of responsibility, China thenceforth deployed new elements to repress the humanitarian networks on the frontier with the DPRK.

Tumen River south of Tumen City -- photo by Chuck Kraus on assignment with Adam Cathcart

Tumen River south of Tumen City -- photo by Chuck Kraus on assignment with Adam Cathcart

French Dispatches from Tokyo: Philippe Pons on North Korean Provocations

Why Read the European Press re: East Asia? A Justification
I operate on assumptions that more sources, even flawed ones, are better than fewer.  (I also believe, unlike the classic example of Dick Cheney in 2002-03, that as we sift through these sources, it is important to let a thesis develop out of them rather than imposing one from above.)  Grabbing a wider net can only bring more perspectives to bear.  So even if European reporting on East Asia were all “wailing and gnashing of teeth,” racist and hopelessly biased, we still might want to take a look at it, and feed it through our filters.  And, because European reporting from East Asia is not in fact beyond hope, it is worth stating plainly: there appear to be more European reporters in East Asia than American reporters, and the substance of the reporting tends to be better.

A second reason is that, in the process of translation, we can sometimes fina a new level of analysis or a fitting phrase, a new way of thinking about a problem which has not heretofore existed in English.  I’ll give a few examples below.

Now, to the quality-of-reporting issue:

Take, for instance, Le Monde versus the New York Times.  The New York Times is particularly guilty or lacksidasical reporting from Tokyo; reporting from Japan is either business-centered [although there is still precious little of even this] or of the human-interest variety.  Whale meat!  Snow in Niigata!  Girls in kimonos graduate from high school!  With an occasional foray into demographic crisis or history controversies, there is simply not enough decent reporting from Japan in the financially-strapped and Middle-East oriented New York Times.  Perhaps the Los Angeles Times is somewhat better; and fortunately the Seattle Times does come through with a good original story from Asia from time to time.  (One on Beijing hip-hop where the author went to Mao Live House between Gulou and Dongzhimen stands out as a particular favorite; the Seattle Times also seems to have a corner on stories about Japanese baseball.)

By contrast to the NYT, reporter Philippe Pons has been writing some decent dispatches lately for Le Monde from Tokyo.  The following piece is quite good; I haven’t sufficient time for a full translation, but here are a few significant points [again, with apologies for the lack of diacritical marks]:

Philippe Pons, “Pyongyang prend le risque de fragiliser ses arrieres,” Le Monde, 30 May 2009, p. 2.

North Korea, according to Pons, has been engaged in overloading the international system with problems (“montee au creaneau”) in order to attract attention.
Pons interviews Chongryon members (pro-north Koreans in Japan), describes them as “seething with frustration” over the north’s recent actions.
In a couple of solid reminders, Pons notes that the anti-“Sunshine Policy” Lee Myong-bak’s February 2008 election was a turning point for DPRK’s foreign policy; he further states the obvious but often forgotten fact that “in theory, the two Koreas are still at war every day.”
Pons describes 2012 as an “echenance” or “due date” for North Korea; the centenary of Kim Il Song’s birth is taken quite seriously by the author as a driving force for regime short-term planning in Pyongyang; presumably, this year might serve as the appropriate time for a more global or official announcement of Kim Jong-un’s accession plans
Pons may be a Frenchman in Japan, but he is on the phone with experts in Seattle (Peter Beck) and San Francisco (Scott Snyder).  Beck believes that internal factors outweigh external factors in gauging North Korean recent behavior.  In other words, domestic politics trumps whatever international backlash might rain down on the North for nuclear tests, grabbing American journalists, etc.
The North Korean missile launch on April 5 2009 was a means of not just testing  ballistic capabilities, but also of testing Barack Obama.
Pons quotes a “South Korean commentator”/talking head Shim Jae-hoon, who states that “Kim Jong Il is playing his last game of poker.”  This is a strong image without much analytical value, but it’s how Shim pays his bills.
China is described as “the queen on the chessboard on account of its ties with North Korea” (“la piece maitresse de l’echiquer en raison de ses liens avec la DPRK”).  It is this kind of metaphor that has been lacking in the American press, to my knowledge.  Everyone leans on China to influence the North, but to liken it to the queen in a game of (Western) chess seems to better capture the overall situation.  China can intimidate, cajole, work with other partners, etc., but it is far from omnipotent.  Particularly if it is distrustful of “the rook” to which we might liken Japan.

Philippe Pons, “Les enjeux geostrategiues de la crise coreenne,” Le Monde, 10 June 2009, p. 2.

Pons discusses the international/regional aspects of the crisis.

Report from Vladivostok

Although the article title is unnecessarily frivolous, Le Monde carries a magnificent dispatch on North Korean activities from the Russian Far Eastern port of Vladivostok:

Marie Jégo, “Lettre de Russie: Kim Jong Il, son aura, son goût du kaki [Letter from Russia: Kim Jong Il, His Aura, His Taste in Khaki],” Le Monde, June 5, 2009, (p. 28).

(Summary, not direct translation, follows.  Full French text available here.)

In Vladivostok, only 50 km from North Korean province where the nuclear test took place, the population was agitated over the North Korean action.  It recalled, for them, how a recent Korean missile launch had fallen near Nakhodka, the other big Far Eastern port for Russia.  On 27 May, a local newspaper (translated into French as Les Nouvelles de l’Extreme Orient) warned of catastrophe for North Korea.

Jego characterizes cultural and human exchanges between the two states/regions as minimal.  Although 9,000 North Korean laborers are being exploited in the Russian timber industry in the area, they are so vastly outnumbered by Chinese merchants in the Russian Far East as to be invisible.  The author contrasts the staid Russian-North Korean frontier with Russia’s active intercourse with China, holding up Suifenhe as a good example.  Russian tourists pay 5000 roubles for a day of shopping there, a city which has become “a vast temple of consumption.”

In 2001, Kim Jong Il passed through Russia on his train to Moscow to see Vladmir Putin in the Kremlin.  Accompanying him was Konstantin Poulikovski, who wrote a book about the experience entitled (again in French) A travers la Russie avec Kim Jong Il. Of Kim Jong Il, the Russian notes that he “could sense his powerful aura and his ability to direct people.”  And other Russians are close to North Korea, at least in terms of space: Reserve General Leonid Ivachov is said to regularly vacation in Pyongyang.

On 30 May, days after the nuclear test, the North Korean consul came to a conference in Vladivostok, and nakedly stated when asked that his country would continue its nuclear tests.  He also suggested that the Russian Far East could take shield under the North Korean nuclear umbrella.  These advances were rejected by the delegates, and seen as terribly arrogant coming from a “brother party.”  The local press was asked not to publish anything about the incident, and the local government indicated the ban had been respected.

Michael Terski, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Vladivostok, says that North Korean nuclear tests could, in a certain fashion, be advantageous for Russia.  They strengthen Russia’s role as a mediator, but (and this appears to be Jego’s assertion rather than Terski’s) they also indicate that North Korea could be a client or customer for Russian nuclear goods.

Across from the North Korean border, Gazprom is building a gas liquification plant.

And there remains some old hard-line sentiment in Russia that resists pressures against North Korea.  Stated L’Independant in Vladivostok, “we should have no illusions: the goal of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea is to eliminate North Korea.”