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.

Celebrating the National Day Holiday Week in the PRC

Just when you think that China has completely exhausted its capacity to surprise you, the hard-line foreign policy tabloid Huanqiu Shibao sends a reporter to cover an S & M-themed show at an International Exhibition in a second-tier city like Zhengzhou, Henan, where apparently, if the face of the little old man at the foot of the stage is any indication, the show brought much joy and proof of China’s internationalism to the masses.

image courtesy Huanqiu Shibao -- picture links to further images and some extensive Netizen commentary

Given his attempts to wipe out sex-themes samzidats as head of the Communist Youth League in the mid-1980s (as documented in the East German archives, among others), I can’t imagine Hu Jintao signed off on this one,

Perhaps the Health Ministry [卫生部] has won an important internal bureaucratic battle?  It seems that the promotion of information about sex in China has been significantly increased since even August.

Or, as one Netizen said in response to the above gallery: “中国 开的太放了 该管管了 [China has opened up too much; need to manage manage....].”

By contrast, Kim Jong Il’s travels through Manchuria and the Russian Far East led him to decree an end to short skirts, tight pants, and English-language T-shirts in North Korea.  Whereas China, the socialist ally and cultural intermediary for North Korea, promptly began, at the same time, the state promotion of rubber dolls by women wearing bunny ears.

Perhaps it’s not inaccurate to say that the “culture wars” continue in East Asia?  Before long, even this analyst will be crying for the return of the Generalissimo and the spiritually healthier days of the New Life Movement.

But in the meantime, happy birthday PRC.  If the 2008 Olympic Games somehow failed to mark your debut on the world stage, certainly the Zhengzhou Expo marks a new moment in some kind of history of this jagged, morphing, protean, now overtly masochistic, fascinatingly weird and endlessly restless Republic.

Assessing U.S.-China Competition After the Hu Jintao Visit

Chinese basketball players spreading a Confucian message of harmony and hope in the year 2010. -- Well, maybe Nass is right, forget 2010...

What follows is a straight-up reading of Matthias Nass’ op-ed in Die Zeit recalibrating the US-China relationship, with special reference to debt and national security, and Hu Jintao in Washington. In general, the message is one wherein China dominates, but the execution of the points is, at least, interesting to me, and most everything (with the exception of the last minute, which I’m working on later), is annotated for English speakers.

Link to the reading.

For more readings of Nass (and his analysis of the Uighurs in Guantanamo Bay issue) from 2009, this video , with very little English translation, is perhaps also useful.

North Korea Notes

The Hu-Obama Summit has already been subjected to some of the most intense lobbying pressures known to man.  From big business to human rights groups to the defense hawks in both countries, both executives have probably had it up to their ears (or, in Hu’s case, his lengthening and positively Cheneyewque jowls) with being pushed to push his counterpart on a given issue.  This being the case, it’s unlikely that a few truly remarkably-timed stories from the Chinese-North Korean border region are going to propel the “Obama needs to go to the mat with Hu on the North Korea issue” trope any further than it has already gone.  But then again, one never knows.  In China, state control of the media insulates the Party from such problems.

Or, in the logic of the Huanqiu Shibao: Chinese troops in North Korea?  What? Hey! Check out this wild boar on the loose in the northern city of Taiyuan!

I really need to get out of here...courtesy Huanqiu Shibao

Just to recap, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was evacuating the PRC and Hu was preparing to head to Washington, word dropped that Chinese companies were practically gobbling up Rason in the Korean northeast and, what’s more, rumors spread from unnamed officials in Seoul’s Blue House that thousands of People’s Liberation Army soldiers were entering the North Korean frontier.  Does anyone else find the timing of the release of these stories, covering events which allegedly happened in mid-December, to be just a little bit troubling?  Not that they registered too deeply given the kerfuffle over the stealth jet and all that, but it is something to note and store away: propaganda campaigns surrounding the Sino-North Korean border are alive and well.

Now, to the NK tropes:

I positively loved the comments on this Washington Post entry by Jennifer Rubin which concludes we should be tough on North Korea “because the Iranians are taking note.”  The original essay lauds John Bolton’s courage in being tough on North Korea, but an anonymous commenter takes everyone to task with refreshing clarity:

[Bolton wrongly] argues that we should be “dramatically increasing defector-led radio broadcasting from outside North Korea. The truth is Kim Jong Il’s greatest foe, and dissent movements thrive on factual information that undermine the dictators’ propaganda.”

Ah the “experts” weighing in again. The above quote reminds me of the possibly apocryphal story about Johnny Cash being requested not to play Folsom Prison Blues in one of his performances at a prison, so as not to reimnd the prisoners of being in prison. To which he replied “You think they’ve forgotten?”

I am sure the North Koreans won’t know they’re starving until we broadcast the fact.

[Bolton continues]: “It is a truism that, as we pump more information in, thereby bolstering oppostion forces, our ability to extract intelligence from a despotic regime increases.”

Like any true Stalinist regime, there are NO living opposition forces. If you want governmental change then you need to make a secret deal with a NK general or generals in the unlikely event that is possible. [H/t Joshua Stanton for the link]

Why do I get the feeling that we in the West are engaged in the same old “to the Yalu River!” debate from fall 1950?  Haven’t conditions changed?  Should we fear a country where, in the seventeenth year of his unchallenged reign and accompanied by his son-successor and sister, the dictator still needs to make very special arrangements for bottled-water factories to get (not nukes but) empty bottles?  Or fear a state whose new slogan for the day dates from 1961 and is, basically, “You think this is bad?  Try life in Changsong County, Ryanggang Province, buddy!

Go ahead, farmer, “make good use of mountain”!  If this slogan chaps your hide, imagine how it feels to read it in the Worker’s (cigarette paper, if you’ve got something to smoke) Daily in Ryanggang…

Sentences like this {“The U.S. imperialists’ pursuance of their policy of strength did not lead to the outbreak of the second Korean war because the DPRK has steadily implemented the Songun line”} make me wish Obama would continue his technique of using communist slogans in lectures to communist leaders.  I thought it was a brilliant stroke to speak to Hu Jintao in his own lingo {“…societies are more harmonious when…”}, so why not go “Songun line” on Kim Jong Il?  Or let Gates do it…God knows the Department of Defense has enough propaganda personnel to whip up a KCNA-style summary praising US policy in East Asia.  But how can you beat such bon mots as quite a different editorial urging (what else?) vigiliance against foreigners distributing gift baskets and flowers from their nuclear aircraft carriers? That is to say:

If there be imperialism not seeking aggression and plunder, it is no longer imperialism.

The imperialists pretend to be “peace champions.” But this is just a crafty and cunning art of disguise to benumb the world people’s awareness and achieve their aggressive and predatory purposes. It is their general strategic goal to destroy the world independent forces with their policy of strength, war strategy, turn the international community into a “unipolar world” dominated by them and exercise an unlimited right to domination.

The aggressive nature of the imperialists remains unchanged and it is getting more pronounced as the days go by. This is clearly proved by the disastrous wars that have taken place in the international arena since the demise of the Cold War.

The whole editorial is available here.  It makes you realize that the North Koreans are probably fuming and frustrated when Hu Jintao goes to Washington and oh-so-glad that the US is continuing intense military action in Afghanistan.

Turning to life inside North Korea, this KCNA dispatch in so many words basically says: “Co-ops are busy trying to produce shit for the fields, but only officials eat enough to produce enough shit to make it worthwhile.”  Yes, the dispatch concludes:

Co-op farms are provided with huge quantities of compost and farm implements by employees of the Cabinet, ministries and national institutions and those in various provinces, cities and counties.

In another unfortunately-titled editorial by KCNA {“Shining Path Covered by Korean Youth Movement“}, we are reminded that the Korean Youth League was formed in January 17, 1946.  As Kim Jong Il himself knows very well and discussed in inner-Party speeches, the Youth League was itself formed in response to violent anti-Party youth protests in Sinuiju in November 1945.  The amount of column inches spent in new histories such as Kim Jong Suk’s biography in describing the importance of consolidating youth, and the major commemorations this past week of the Democratic Youth League formation, indicates that the regime is still working as hard as it can to keep the youth under its protective wing, while offering them less and less material incentive.

Which generation of North Koreans will finally render the Democratic Youth League into a counter-revolutionary organization?

As I learned in the East German archives, Ri Yong Chol, the present executive of the Youth League is the same dude who was leading it in 1989!  In other words, the bureaucracy of the Youth League is getting quite gray.  Here, however, North Korea gets consistent props from the Chinese (particularly former Communist Youth League Secretary Hu Jintao) for keeping the spiritual pollution down and militarist/patriotic education high among North Korean youth.  Oh, musn’t forget!  Great job with the corveé labor, kids!  Certainly you were led to become expressive, more fulfilled human beings on account of the new — dare I say avant-garde? — poetry being produced at such a clip in the newly digital (IC all the way!) North Korea, such instant classics as “Coalfield Alive with High-pitched Drive.”

But enough with the cynicism, my dear professor.  Isn’t it time that we found a path forward, a new concept?  Perhaps an idea could be expressed constructively, given that there is no Great Firewall acting as a mental prophylactic?  Well, the Daily NK is in fact available behind the Great Firewall (much to the chagrin of the North Korean government, no doubt), and it carries this very interesting story about the possible official production of a film in North Korea in which the hero is a Christian.  Reframing, twisting, newly interpreting Kim Il Song’s past: this is the key to an approach in and towards North Korea which can yield good results, absent a regime collapse. One need only gain sanction from the Great Leader’s past attitudes and papers, and the action can become defensible.  I don’t know how many of my readers have had the pleasure of reading the 48 talismanic volumes of Kim’s Works, let alone the 1200+ page memoir With the Century (OK I still working on that one), but let me assure you that there is plenty of fodder in these sources for a more liberal approach to governance in North Korea.  Not wholesale, of course, but when the man says he likes some landlords (which is to say, he didn’t kill them when he could have, and brought them over into the sympathetic middle forces!), that’s potential ideological cover for that elusive North Korean Deng Xiaoping figure for whom the world is waiting.

Former hostage in North Korea/missionary intentional border-crosser Robert Park is speaking out.  There is a major  difference between how he was treated and the Ling/Lee duo and how he has acted after getting out of North Korea.  Perhaps this is because not only did he lack the protection of minor fame in the US, he was hardcore opposed to Kim Jong Il when he got in (unlike the women whose memoirs I am reading sedulously in Seattle), he insulted the leader, etc.  Not for the light of heart.

Finally, this is already my favorite photo of the year, and it isn’t just the flaming poop:

"Suited Businessman Turns to Rap" -- courtesy DailyNK, click image for article link

Presently burrowing into the critical aftermath of a recent performance of the Schumann Cello Concerto in Seattle, it was heartening to read the DailyNK’s concert review of the event in Seoul:

The president of the Center for Free Enterprise, a liberal think tank, Kim Chung Ho transformed himself into a rapper for the day on Saturday to criticize Kim Jong Il and his sympathizers in South Korea.

Kim delivered his message through song on an outdoor stage in front of the headquarters of Korean Exchange Bank in Myeongdong, coming together with hip hop group The Street Poets to form “Dr. Kim and the Poets” and criticize the North Korean regime in a concert entitled “The Gnome Kim Jong Il’s Birthday Parteee.”

He performed stirring renditions of “Sons Just Like their Fathers” and “More Grasshoppers than Ants”, despite occasionally stumbling over lyrics and losing track of the beat.

Lose track of the beat and stumble over the lyrics all you want, Dr. Kim.  As we say on these rainy streets, “Respect!”  And mad, mad props.  Those prepping for the main event of the epoch sling citations and drop beats, not bombs!

Chinese Troops in North Korea?

On the eve of Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington, D.C., the Chosun Ilbo releases an explosive report that Chinese troops have moved into the Rason Special Economic Zone on Korea’s northeastern tip.   I just posted a rather extensive comment on this story on the One Free Korea site, the contents of which I won’t mirror here, except to add that according to this translation of a Huanqiu Shibao reporter’s story resulting from a trip to the Rason area last month, there are about 4000 Chinese businessmen in the zone and — in contrast to everywhere else in the permanently-mobilized DPRK — very few North Korean troops.

In related news, apart from its fixation on the North Korean football team‘s prospects for future victory, the French media has produced a beautiful blog on the Sino-North Korean border region (via Le Monde, slow upload), has a nice and manageable database of Sino-North Korea stories, and informs us (via the France-North Korea Friendship Association blog) that the North Korean Moranbong acrobats are working in Monte Carlo.

The Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone, fittingly red -- image courtesy Wikimedia commons

Drop That: Cruising the Xinhua Bookstores in Lhasa

About forty minutes before I was due to vacate downtown Lhasa, I scampered across town over to the largest Xinhua bookstore (naturally, it was right across from the Tibet Autonomous Region Party Committee Headquarters, the nerve center of political power in Tibet).  There I found a few things: collections of Mao’s writings about Tibet, a new text based on reminiscences of an old Guomindang cadre in Tibet about Lhasa from 1944-1949, a hefty tome with a Carmina Burana style cover translating Melvyn Goldstein’s 1990s big book on the Demise of the Lamaist State, a new Party history of Tibet that has a slender but present chapter on the Cultural Revolution, and also the fact that apparently one cannot get a map of Tibet in the Tibetan language in Tibet.  (One can, however, get a map of all of China and East Asia which is exclusively in Tibetan.)

Probably one of the most interesting texts I found was published in January 2009, an extensive text “for the study of cadre” obviously prepared in response to the March 2008 uprising in Lhasa.  Edited by Niu Zhifu (牛治富), the title is 西藏”四观两论”:干部读本 (Xizang siguan lianglun: ganbu duben, or, Four Views and Two Theories on Tibet: Reading Materials for Party Members). I’m in and out of this text in staged encounters as plowing straight through it would cause contusions of various kinds, but here are some interesting facts I have gathered thus far between its golden covers:

The editorial committee, consisting of 15 people, includes 4 Tibetans; it is full of course of the ever-present imperative towards development (fazhan/发展) as well as the standard keywords of “integration and harmony”.

(Speaking of fazhan, just as the word “sinicized” has entered the vocabulary, perhaps one can also speak of getting “fazhan-ized” in the sense of converting wholesale to a way of life in which incomes, roads, and living standards become one’s guiding forces, or having a kind of fascination [or fazhanation, if you will] with economic data).

A great deal of basic education is contained in this text about China’s religion policy in Tibet, and we learn that China has signed a number of UN Declarations on religious freedom, but also that non-believers (particularly those under 18) have a right to be protected from proselytizing even by their parents; e.g., children under 18 years of age should not be allowed to enter monasteries as pupils until after their fully bilingual and secular standard education is completed.

In the Cultural Revolution, we learn, “Tibet had the same experience as the rest of China”; we learn that the Party is now promoting an appreciation for the scientific value of Buddhism even as it classifies Buddhism into 5 types, that ancient histories can be reinterpreted as homage to today’s Beijing by substituting “中央政府/Central Government” for “国王/king.”

Further, the document emphasizes the potentially dangerous character of Tibetan Buddhism by noting its international character (literally, its “boundary-leaping” character), that the religion has adherents all over China, that the Dalai Lama is a splittist, that religion is often tied to imperialism, but all the same that today’s PRC is still just less than 100 years removed from an immense historical epoch during which the church exerted tremendous power over the state.

Hu Jintao is perched in this document not so much as an original thinker, but as a successor to Jiang Zemin, the man whose calligraphy litters Tibet (one can find it ostentatiously on the Monument to the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet opposite the Potala Palace, and in the Potala Palace itself, and exhorting schoolchildren in rural Jiangze!) and whose strategy continues in Tibet, with often rapid strides away from the compromises extended by the reformer Hu Yaobang in the early 1980s.

Finally, in addition to Marx Marx and more Marx, we get statistics for the entire Chinese nation:

- 13,000 monasteries

- 200,000 monks (including lamas)

- 120,000 nuns

- 1700 living Buddhas

Sino-NK Stories to Watch

Now that China and North Korea have gotten their stories (mostly) straight about Kim Jong Il’s five-day trip to northeast China, a small mountain of evidence exists which is worth analyzing. 

Visions on the First Day of Class

In Pyongyang, KCNA is now promoting a new story about the year 1960 describing how young Kim Jong Il (all of 19 at the time) started the school year by ascending a hill, whereupon he was seized by a vision of a strong Korea:

Pyongyang, September 1 (KCNA) — On September 1, Juche 49 (1960) General Secretary Kim Jong Il began studying at Kim Il Sung University.

That day, he climbed Ryongnam Hill on the campus and recited a poem “Korea, I Will Glorify Thee” reflecting his will to add luster to Korea, true to the intention of President Kim Il Sung.

Since then, all his revolutionary activities have been oriented towards a grand goal of demonstrating the dignity and honor of the nation all over the world by turning the country into an invincible one.

The story, having reminded us of the profundity of youth, then morphs into the standard hagiography that freezes Kim Jong Il in time as a historical figure:

Among his “energetic ideological and theoretical activities” Kim is praised for having “newly expounded the position and role of the leader in the revolutionary struggle and proved the originality of the President’s revolutionary ideas” (emphasis added).  Does North Korean revolutionary theory allow for collective leadership?  Ever since Brian Myers deconstructed juche’s hallow nature, no one seems courageous enough to discuss the ideological traps the regime has set for itself. 

Encouraging nuggets in the piece indicating an interest in reform (lauding Kim’s “clear understanding of the changed situation and the requirement of the revolution”) coexist along with deadeningly orthodox praise (among Kim’s “tremendous achievements in all fields” are included “grand monumental edifices built throughout the country”).  These kind of bifurcated statements from Pyongyang which both suggest reform and hammer home the Kimist conservative line will probably continue. 

In a separate piece, Kim Jong Il’s first day of class at Kim Il Sung University (where, as existing photographs indicate, he tended to sit in the back row) is now being interpreted as his “assumption of leadership” at the university in the same breath that songs praising the new successor are discussed.  Youth, so long as they are the fruit of Kim Il Song’s loins, seem to be capable of any precocious feat.

But much of the discussion of youth masks the deepening age of the central leadership of the DPRK.  Ri Yong Su, who participated in yesterday’s fake celebration of Kim Jong Il’s “leadership” of Kim U. in 1960, is a good example.  Ri is the head of the Democratic Youth Leage; he has held the same position since at least the 1980s, when he was arguing for a very orthodox interpretation of the student “chaos” caused in Tiananmen Square in China and the fall of East Germany.  I have bumped into Ri, figuratively speaking, more than a few times in the archives of the East German state.  He is not a reformer, and he has certainly not forgotten the lessons of 1989 and 1990.  To imagine that entrenched North Korean bureaucrats and socialist elites can simply turn their backs on four or five decades of orthodoxy and are willing to blindly follow the Chinese model merely because they like the smell of RMB is a misguided one. 

Bracing for Change

Evidence collected by Haggard and Noland suggests that North Koreans know that their system is bound to change in some fashion when Kim Jong Il relinquishes power, but this KCNA editorial (also from September 1) seems to imply rather openly that big changes are on the way:

Pyongyang, September 1 (KCNA) – Rodong Sinmun Wednesday in a jointly signed article calls upon all the people to make redoubled efforts, planting their feet on the ground and looking at the world.  It says:

Planting one’s feet on the ground and looking at the world means doing anything by oneself in one’s right senses, learning everything worth learning and introducing whatever beneficial to suit one’s actual conditions and bringing everything to the level of the world’s latest science and technology.

The slogan of the Workers’ Party of Korea “Plant Your Feet on the Ground and Look at the World!” serves as a revolutionary and militant banner clearly indicating the shortcut to reaching faster the eminence of a thriving socialist nation in conformity with the trend of the times and requirements of the reality of the DPRK….

The Korean people could take a firm hold on the eminence of CNC by their own efforts and with their own technology by planting their feet on the ground even under the situation where everything was in short supply…

Perhaps, in spite of the mandatory caveats, the soft Chinese reports that North Korea is finally ready to be “inspired by the Chinese example” of economic reform might prove to be correct.  At the very least, editorials like this represent an attempt by the North Koreans to create a bit of flexibility for themselves, assuming that anyone reads Rodong Sinmun seriously anymore.  

For its part, the Chinese press has gone into full-throated encouragement mode, as in this Huanqiu Shibao editorial entitled “The World Should Encourage North Korea to Open Up and Reform” and this short Huanqiu item on why investors should be bullish about the “internationalization” of Rason port in extreme northeast Korea.  China Southern Broadcasting is sending a group of journalists to North Korea, following on the heels of a sports delegation from Beijing that just returned.  The Chinese Embassy in North Korea, whose head travelled up to Jilin to meet with Kim Jong Il, is now reporting on a raft of cooperative meetings, such as yesterday’s get-together of PLA Shenyang-area brass with North Korean diplomats in Pyongyang.  And behind all the solicitousness toward the North Koreans lies a sometimes-expressed apprehension toward Japanese power and a knowledge that North Korean collapse would bring Japan into play again on the Korean peninsula, traditionally not a situation with positive outcomes for China.  Finally, as if to emphasize the benign nature of the DPRK, a group of North Korean dancers served as the centerpiece of an extended photo opportunity in Tiananmen Square in Beijing.  This is quite a striking photo gallery.  Fear not the handbag!  

On northwest Tiananmen Square, Sept. 1, 2010, via Huanqiu Shibao

Chess Match: North Korean Endgame in Toronto

Today in one of Germany’s leading newspapers, the Suddeutsche Zeiting, underneath coverage of the G-20 meeting in Toronto (with optimistic headlines like “In the Canadian wilderness, Merkel and Obama demonstrate a harmony which in reality does not exist”) is a rather interesting story about North Korea:

Christian Wernicke, “Dreimal Schach gegen Pjoengjang: Die Vereinigten Staaten bereiten sich auf ein Ende des Regimes in Nordkorea vor [Triple Check Against Pyongyang: The US Prepares Itself for an End to the Regime in North Korea], SdZ, July 28, 2010, p. 2. [Excerpt translated from the German by Adam Cathcart]

The ability to play chess simultaneously on three boards is not given to every man.  But this past weekend, Barack Obama at the very least made an effort.  On the sidelines of the G8, the US President pressed himself into dialogue with South Korean President Lee Myung Bak, and, finally, in a talk with Hu Jintao, asked him to request the truculent North Koreans to talk.  If Obama succeeded, it is open to see: two of the parties continue on in Toronto.

[Discussion of how Cheonan incident adds urgency to G20 sideline discussions]

In the second act, Obama took in his South Korean diplomatic colleague Lee Myung Bak.  In the ongoing Cold War with North Korea, the Koreans long for further backup from their big brother.  And Obama delivered:  Suprisingly, the American president announced that he would ask for a free trade agreement in Washington which his fellow Democrats in Cogress had been blocking for three years. …

Even further is the third party — the game with China.  With sinuous charm  [geschmeidigem Charme], Obama in Canada made “powerful progress” with the Sino-American relationship.  The word “Korea” was never heard, but in the private discussion certainly played a proper role.

Then again, the USA is seeking a risky train of events.  on the one hand, we can take the game begun at the beginning of June, when US Defense Minister Robert Gates sought to meet with Chinese Generals in the luxurious Shangri-la Hotel in Singapore to talk about North Korea.  Washington would like to supply the fall: When the rock-hard regime in Pyongyang falls apart, plans for the crisis need to exist — not only for the nuclear weapons lying in the north half of the Korean peninsula, but for the humanitarian relief for the 23 million people there.

But the question if Korea (as in the German example) will be reunited or will first be a protectorate of the United Nations plagues the Asia experts in Washington.  Gates wanted to feel things out in Singapore — but his attempt to “play castles” [ed.: again the chess metaphor] was shattered by the Beijing generals who as always were angry over the American arms sales to Taiwan.  At the end, Gates had to formally state that “the protocol has it that the United States does not want to see China as an enemy.”

Whereas Gates was blitzed by the Chinese in Singapore, Obama appeared to make more progress with Hu in Toronto.  The American President could at least notch a small success: China’s head of state genially agreed to the invitation of a state visit to Washington.  A chess game, then, in the Oval Office.

Huanqiu Shibao's Korean War Commemoration graphic

Le Dernier Jours du Pekin: French Reads

My title today comes from a romantic, fin-de-siecle French account of the Boxer Rebellion, when the walled city of Beijing seemed to be Ground Zero for Armageddon.   But my double entendre is really meant to suggest Obama’s last day in the city.

If Obama is really such a socialist, why didn’t he insist on visiting Chairman Mao’s tomb?  Maybe because he’s too busy trying to make deals for Boeing and Microsoft, or explaining why the Dalai Lama can’t be likened to Jefferson Davis.

In its article “Barack Obama Also Makes Dreams Among the Chinese,” Aujourd’hui en Chine shows how Barack Obama makes a merchandising wave in China, with a whole new style of Obamicon.

"Ventee de t-shirts Obama"

In considering Chinese views of the West, this French photo gallery of libertines on the Beijing club circuit (“Le ball des salopes“!) going all out for Halloween is something to consider.  While this sort of thing makes a certain segment of the Beijing expat community giddy, if one is going to shell out forty yuan for a bottle of tea, I’d much rather spend an evening listening to French accordion music up near Jiugulou.

And although everyone seems to have forgotten that not long ago Al Qaeda in Algeria was threatening the PRC with murder of its citizens in Algeria, there are still tens of thousands of Chinese in Algieria, where life has gotten a little more difficult since China joined the War on Terror.  As the French press reports (sorry but the NYT is too broke to report on this one!), integration is difficult for the Chinese there.

But in the meantime, maybe China is complaining not just about trade practices, but the Uighurs sprung from Gitmo who are now living on Palau.

Perhaps this accounts for the “cold ambiance between Hu Jintao and Barack Obama” which the sharp-eyed Arnaud de la Grange reports on in today’s Le Figaro.   If you’re feeling lazy and imprecise, Google translates the article here.