Releasing Robert, and Economic Development in Tumen

One Free Korea, channeling Reuters and a fascinating KCNA-published “confession” of the border-hopping misssionary, reports that Robert Park will be released from captivity in North Korea.

Meanwhile, Chinese media outlets have yet to pick up the story, but might do so eventually.  Given their druthers, the Chinese would rather not give mainland readers the idea that foreigners are running willy-nilly in the Northeast, as the CCP would rather itself control the pace and tone of discussions around the more general issues of refugees and human rights in North Korea that the Park case exposes.

Instead, the CCP media is trumpeting recent meetings for economic cooperation in Changchun.  Jilin province, the major bordering body along the North Korean frontier, is in the midst of a major push to attract more foreign investment.  As we can learn from the process that led to PRC recognition of South Korea in 1992, provincial pressures should never be minimized when understanding Chinese policy toward the Koreas.  Jilin cadre desperately want to see North Korean economic ties with their province, and have a further interest in economic integration of the Koreas that could lead to an overland route for provincial goods to the rich markets of South Korea.  This is just something to keep in mind when discussing the issues of sanctions on North Korea and the Chinese role in enforcing or not enforcing those sanctions.

Tumen City center for economic cooperation

Meanwhile, Yanbian is pumping up the effectiveness of its police forces (links in Chinese) here and here, and, since Euna Lee and Laura Ling (as well as Mike Kim) are no longer reporting on the issue, the city appears to be doing more crackdowns on prostitution fronts as well.

Beijing Notes

Hutong Destruction for the Line 8 in Beijing -- photo courtesy Dan Edwards

The Beijinger reports that wide swaths of the Gulou (Drum Tower) neighborhood may be slated for destruction and horrid Disney/Qianmen-style theme park makeover:

Disturbing news in the Chinese press has bar owners around Gulou (aka the Drum Tower) feeling nervous. Plans have been announced to “restore” the area around the tower to the style of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and build an underground “Beijing Time Cultural City,” comprising restaurants, parking spaces, and a museum about timekeeping technology.

The development is bordered by Jiugulou Dajie to the west, Zhangwang Hutong (about half way down Jiugulou Dajie) to the north, Caochang Hutong to the east, and Gulou itself to the south. In other words, the entire zone between the Drum and Bell towers and all adjoining hutongs.

The Qianmen redevelopment south of Tiananmen Square illustrates why businesses around Gulou have been unnerved by the news – the heart of Qianmen was demolished and rebuilt in an “ancient style,” with residents moved elsewhere and existing businesses forced out. Given the announcement back in November that Jiaodaokou authorities plan to restrict the number of bars and cafes on the nearby Nanluogu Xiang, it seems likely the entire area to the east and northeast of Houhai is set to receive a “facelift.”

Many of the shops along the eastern side of Di’anmenwai Dajie, the street running south from Gulou, also appear to have moved out, indicating the wrecking balls may soon be at work there as well.

A large swathe of hutongs north of Gulou and a short section at the southern end of Nanluogu Xiang came down last August to make way for new line 8 subway stations. Now it seems a broader “redevelopment” of the area is in the offing.

An article in the China Daily today details plans for underground developments in Dongcheng District, including, “a 5 km underground road… built to link Yonghegong, or Lama Temple, to Dongdan.” The article did not mention the Gulou project however.

It’s enough to make one want to lie down in front of a bulldozer, or, being absent from Beijing, return to previous cello-video laments from last summer of destruction in the neighborhood.  This is where I live five weeks a year and this news makes me feel just a bit ill.

Fortunately there is good news also from Beijing, site of perpetual regeneration: An outdoor skating rink has been established near Worker’s Stadium in Chaoyang.

courtesy Kara Chin

Pékin, mon amour gelée…thanks to Chiang Kai-shek’s southern tendencies, the city escaped the destruction of the Second World War, clawed its frozen way out of the Civil War with only a few tens of thousands of refugees and handful of craters on the Tiantan airfields, smashed down the walls with liberation, was somehow not set completely ablaze in the Cultural Revolution, survived the rocks and the flames of June 4, 1989, and was hypnotized only by Falun Gong at the millenium.  You even survived the Olympics, great city, city of boulevards, city of smog!  Your propaganda encircles the world, but you encircle yourself, climbing the heights only to smash hammers down upon your own limbs in this bruising regeneration.

Finally, that wickedly avant-garde publication of leftist drug addicts, the Wall Street Journal, reports on the underground music scene in Beijing.  I suppose that for New York City bankers, MAO LIVE HOUSE is a discovery indeed!

MAO Live House - click image for link

But for more cultivated folks, especially those going deaf and composing lieder and letters to “die ferne Geliebte,” I recommend the February 11 Beethoven party at the Bookworm, Beijing’s most congenial and polyglot corner for texts and those who savor them.