Report of North Korean Military Buildup along the Jilin Border

10,000 More North Korean Troops Along Chinese Frontier

The Daily NK quotes sources inside North Korea indicating that the Korean People’s Army will, for the next six months, be building up its forces in Ryanggang province around the large border city of Hyesan.

courtesy Wikipedia

courtesy Wikipedia

A total of 10,000 new troops are expected.  According to the source, talk in the DPRK has it that the moves are being taken in response to a Chinese buildup in adjacent Jilin province:

The source said, “The rumor doing the rounds is that they are increasing the size of the army unit in Yangkang Province in response to a missile base the Chinese have constructed at Antu near Mt. Baekdu and their posting of mechanized forces near Changbai,” hinting that the expansion of the Army Corps members is partly out of concern for China.

However, in response to a Chinese demand in August of last year, North Korea relocated both its 2nd 14.5mm Anti-Aircraft Gun Company (a.k.a Jedang Ridge Company) and an independent platoon known as the “Gotdongji Platoon” to Masan Ridge, which is approximately five kilometers from the Yalu River border. Before the move, the Jedang Ridge Squadron’s 12 guns were aimed directly at the Chinese city of Changbai in Jilin Province, directly across the border from Hyesan.

[But]the Chinese missile base indicated by the source is actually located in the vicinity of Dunhua, which is in the interior of the Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture, far from the North Korea-China border, so it seems that the true reason behind the expansion may be different from the official explanation.

The buildup, if accurate, could also be described as stemming from the domestic need to keep would-be refugees contained inside the North.  But it is also very possible that the news of this buildup is a means of the DPRK trying to use somewhat conventional negotiating tactics against the PRC.  Heretofore, the main threat NK posed to China was the “gun to my head” argument or, put another way, North Korea’s potential to open the border and release hundreds of thousands of refugees into China.  Along with recent nuclear tests along the border, this type of news could be interpreted as a conventional means of making the PLA sit up straighter, heightening Chinese respect for North Korean arms.  I could of course be very wrong about this, but it may signal a significant type of change, particularly if the regime grows in militarist confidence.

This increase in troop numbers on the northern frontier can come back also to this idea of encirclement of the DPRK.  As Russia increases its missile defenses in the area, we can see how the Northern frontier could also be seen by Pyongyang as a major new focus for their defensive paradigm.  After all, the Chinese have their own secret talks with the Americans, get closer every day in spite of empty propaganda cannonades to the American military, and American analysts fantasize openly about getting to a “permissive defense environment” along the PRC-DPRK frontier in order to infiltrate American commandos (as opposed to journalists) into the North.   Not to mention new allegations of China preparing a special “occupation force” / DPRK government-in-exile, allegations which I think are overblown, but nevertheless are out there.

One quick correction to the Daily NK translation from the Chinese: NK Anti-Aircraft weapons were “directly across” from Changbai, not “pointed directly at.”

More Troops=Civilians Bear the Burden

And the civilians are definitely complaining about the troops.  In my travels there, it was pretty obvious merely in terms of body language that the villagers were living in what felt like a kind of occupation.  The troops come to town: as a North Korean peasant, you don’t cheer, you don’t offer your daughter’s hand in marriage.  Instead, you pony up what little grain you have.  Isn’t this reminscent of Chiang Kai-shek’s national army in 1947, anyone?  And isn’t it a major violation of the Kimist/Maoist edict for the army to remain “like a fish in water” with the people?  North Korea needs to find a receipe for sustainable army-civilian coexistence if it is going survive.  Because we seem to have fallen back into the ethos of the Japanese occupation of Korea, with the KPA reprising as the Kanto army and North Hamgyong’s sweating provincial head following Kim Jong Il nervously around shrines and masquerading as Col. Terasuki.

The Daily NK elaborates:

Regardless of the reason, the news of the fresh troops has not gone down well with the local people, according to the source. He explained, “With the news of 10,000 additional soldiers coming into Hyesan, many citizens have become concerned. It is already difficult for them to deal with the existing number of soldiers.”

Besides forces affiliated to the 10th Army Corps, the Raider Unit in Baekam, the Raider and Anti-Aircraft Missile Unit, the Huchang County Medium-Range Missile Unit, the 43rd Gapsan County Sniper Brigade, the Samjiyeon County Escort Bureau Unit, Hyesan City Bureau No. 8 (the Bureau in charge of supplying armaments and ammunition) and the Yangkang Province Border Patrol Brigade are all stationed in Yangkang Province, causing civilians to complain that the number of soldiers already exceeds the number of civilians.

And this is another way to assure they get more labor out of these people.  Army units are less likely to shirk labor tasks than, say, the Democratic Youth League.  There is no end in the Good Friends reports about problems with people simply not showing up for their corvée responsbilities.

Perhaps the ideal text one should be reading in order to understand how such a regime ultimately crumbles is not Lenin’s Tomb, but rather Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian on the end of the Qin dyansty. The monument-building, the harsh legalist punishments, the outrageous demands for corvée labor, the courtly intrigues, the belligerent foreign policy: it resembles the Kim dynasty’s late years as much as the Qin dynasty’s late years.   Here, choices all lead to death, making resistance and rebellion the only act of free will in such a system.

A Chinese in Pyongyang [cue "An American in Paris," but with a guzheng or pan'sori warble in pentatonic mode]

In other DPRK-PRC news, huggable Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will be making a state visit to North Korea from October 4 to October 6.  This news comes via the (Chinese) Global Times, which promotes the visit as a banner right next to the announcement of the October 1 parade.  Apparently Chinese leaders are capable of, as Ai Weiwei says, “reveling in their own glory” while making new mechanations to hold it down in the northeast.   According to Global Times, Wen will have a series of meetings with North Korean leaders “on issues of common concern” (no explicit mention in this short release of nuclear problem) and participate in activities to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Chinese-North Korean diplomatic relations.   Whether or not Wen asks his colleagues about Hwang Jang-yop’s latest jeremiad, or how things are going with the anti-aircraft weapons and the prostitutes in Hyesan, is anyone’s guess.

Fortunately, there are some knowledgeable white men from the State Department shuttling around Asia gently helping to remind the Chinese not to spend too much time talking about such sundry details:

KUALA LUMPUR – Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to North Korea next week is sending Pyongyang “a clear message” on the need to return to nuclear talks, a top US envoy said on Monday.

US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who is visiting Malaysia as part of a five-nation Asian tour, welcomed the trip announced by North Korean state media as an emphatic push towards the “six-nation” talks.

“We are quite appreciative of the fact that China, like other countries involved, has sent a very clear message to North Korea that there is unanimity among all countries in the region about the need for them to return to the six-party talks and to resume the path of denuclearisation,” he said.

“The fact that they are hearing this message from China as well as the countries in the region helps to reinforce a strong message,” he told a news conference.

“I feel optimistic that in all of the interactions that North Korea has had now that they are getting an unmistakable message that… there are no divisions and differences among the countries that are involved.” [AFP, via Khaleej Times in Dubai, one of my new favorite newspapers].

I wish someone would have learned this from the way that Zhou Enlai handled negotiations with George Marshall in Nanking in 1946: Never, ever broadcast that the CCP is going to do precisely what you have told them to do, even when you are convinced they bring your talking points into their closed-door meetings.  Even when Zhou Enlai is so charming and sends your journalists beautiful handwritten letters on gorgeous stationary that your daughter loves!  Somehow we seem have have forgotten that even the sturdiest-looking of “united fronts” can be toppled when the balance of power turns.

Hyesan, Ryanggang Province -- photo by Adam Cathcart

Hyesan, Ryanggang Province -- photo by Adam Cathcart