Updates on Sino-North Korean Relations

Chinese TV reports that preparations are underway for North Korean heir apparent Kim Jong Eun to visit CCP leaders in Beijing in “late April or early May.”

Accordingly, a rather critical report on the Huanqiu Shibao website asserting that North Korean nuclear facilities in Yongbyon were leaking radioactivity (why else would Kim Jong Il avoid the place so assiduously?) has been taken down in favor of a more innocuous report from the Wall Street Journal about a new Ian Fleming-style airstrip which the North Koreans have been building into a mountain near Wonsan.

The report on Kim Jong Eun’s forthcoming visit comes from the North Korean ambassador in Beijing, whose office, according to a French journalist, has recently been sprucing up their photo montage across from Ritan Park (http://www.jordanpouille.com/2011/04/10/drpk-ambassade-coree-du-nord/ ).

It is worth noting how inclusive the North Koreans were with the Chinese during the big April 15 celebrations of Kim Il Song’s birthday.  The Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang hosted a number of meetings and set up a large cultural extravaganza on April 13.  Pictures from the Chinese orchestra/ballet/acrobat show in Pyongyang can be found on the website of the Chinese embassy in that city (http://kp.china-embassy.org/chn/zxxx/t814478.htm).

However, KCNA still occasionally returns to standard form, noting that a few Chinese “cannot repress their yearning” for Kim Il Song (http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news08/20110408-35ee.html).

A few items of note in the Sino-North Korean borderlands.  Kim Jong Il was in Jagang on  April 8 (http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news08/20110408-41ee.html) and a new “Martyr’s Cemetary” has been completed in Sinuiju  
( http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news10/20110410-14ee.html).  The lumber industry, that is rafts of logs floating down the Yalu remains a point of pride and production (http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news19/20110419-17ee.html ).  While at one time there were rumors of a Chinese takeover of Hyesan Youth Mine, clearly the facility is still a mess (http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news21/20110421-46ee.html).  The DPRK minister of electricity did make a courtesy call recently to the Chinese Embassy, however.

There has been more open news about China in the DPRK since last year, and most of it is of the law-and-order, anti-Japanese variety.  A few examples: 
North Korea praises China’s crackdown on “indecent publications” ( http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news10/20110410-08ee.html ) lauds Huanqiu Shibao rhetorical attack on Japanese contaminated water (http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news12/20110412-19ee.html), describes China’s efforts to tighten border security with Laos  (http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news18/20110418-31ee.html ), a country that has seen more than a few North Korean refugees coming across the border thanks to missionaries like Mike Kim.

In return, China praises North Korean environmental policy, stroking a bit of “Eco-Kimism,” if you will (http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news21/20110421-07ee.html ).

One of the more curious items of praise in the KCNA dispatches of the last couple of weeks was about a 
Chinese businessman lauded for “saving Korean girls” ( http://www.kcna.co.jp/item/2011/201104/news12/20110412-35ee.html).

This generously vague bit of praise indicates that Chinese capitalists can be considered friends to the North Korean revolution, when in fact Chinese  capitalists have up until this point been some of the most hated characters in North Korean fiction such as Sea of Blood. 

The Jilin Symphony Orchestra in Pyongyang, April 2011, photo courtesy Chinese Embassy in the DPRK


Death of Chang Song U / DPRK updates

Surprisingly, this story seems not yet to have been picked up by English-language media.  Chang Song U, the brother of Chang Song Taek and a higher-up in the DPRK bureaucracy, was reported on August 25 by KCNA to have died.  Kim Jong Il was said to be saddened; much more detail is available in Chinese.

Chang Song U, RIP

Chang Song U, RIP

In the meantime, North Korean media is celebrating Youth Day, talking almost daily about pro-NK activities in war-torn Mexico, and slapping up as much anti-Japanese propaganda and historical grievance as possible (probably desperately hoping for an LDP/conservative miracle in the parliamentary elections, as a friendly Japan is precisely what the NK leadership doesn’t need from a propaganda/mobilization standpoint).  Again, I strongly recommend reading the Congressional testimony of Selig Harrison on the Korean-Japan dynamic; he has great insights here.  (Multiple links provided in previous post, just search “Harrison” within this blog to find.)  Jeff Rud, a student of Korean War crimes, has an insightful post on his blog on the basis for, and the uses of, recent anti-Japanese dispatches by KCNA.

Japanese troops harass Korean girl in North Korean children's story; anti-American comic up top (collection of Adam Cathcart)

Japanese troops harass Korean girl in North Korean children's story; anti-American comic up top (collection of Adam Cathcart)

Although Hatoyama, the presumptive new Japanese P.M., speaks well of China and would be a significant improvement over the current occupant (Aso of the LDP), China is also angry with Japan at the moment.  However, their reasons are more “War on Terror” related (at least in Beijing’s thought): Japan admitted Uighur independence leader Rebiya Khadeer in July, and so they are being punished by a naval snub.

If China was really gutsy, Xinhua would grab my citation from the Nazi archives about NSDAP/Imperial Japanese wartime propaganda insisting on Xinjiang’s independence.  Now that is a plot!

I have no inside information on the five North Korean officials in Los Angeles so will remain basically mum on that topic.   However, we should take note that they (or some pro-North Korean organization in Los Angeles, apparently) made a statement on August 21 about the need to “elimnate traitors” which is certainly meant to provide some political cover to hardline elements in in Pyongyang or the KPA brass who might otherwise be opposed to accepting an invitation to Los Angeles, which is way beyond the normal circumference in New York/Jersey out of which North Korean officials are normally not allowed to travel in the U.S.  The fact that they drove around in a private car near LAX (they almost certainly arrived on a direct flight from Beijing) both gives me great respect for their death-defying tactics of braving LA’s legendary traffic and the small but persistent power of people-to-people, or Track II, exchanges.

And, as a final reminder that things are warming up with the Chinese, we have news of a Chinese delegation in the DPRK from August 17-21, and frequent performance of a new musical about the Chinese PLA’s liberation of Shanghai, the very city where China is returning the favor by quashing the broadcast of film documentaries critical of Pyongyang.

‘He experienced the Western culture in its best form’ : An Interview with Kim Jong-un’s Classmate in Bern

Elisalex Hexel, “Kim Jong-un played football, had humor, and loved comics,” Die Welt am Sonntag, June 7, 2009. Translated from the German original by Adam Cathcart.

From an interview with Kim Jong-un’s classmate, who wishes to remain anonymous.

I cannot really remember anymore precisely when he came to the International School of Berne (ISB).  It must have been 1993 or 1994.  He introduced himself as Chol Pak and was at that time about eleven years old. His English was poor at first: he had a strong accent, so he got help with it. Later he mastered it quite well [beherrschte er es ganz gut], and he learned German also — at least the basics. I think, he understands even Swiss German, [a language] which, over the years, brought all of us together. Yes, it happens automatically when you live there.

Unlike his father Kim Jong-il — which I now know — he was a pretty big guy, lanky, round face, with a little acne, like most of us back then. I also remember that he dressed very simply; even in later years, it was always black jeans, black socks, maximum color a gray T-shirt. One time he appeared in a grey T-shirt with blue stripes, and a classmate said jokingly to him: “So eccentric today [So ausgefallen heute]?” And so he had to laugh.

He had humor, and got along well even with students that came from countries which were enemies of North Korea – or are today. Which countries those were, we already knew, but it was never an issue. Politics was taboo in the school, and nobody dared to bring up such things. We didn’t even speak about back home even once, since none of us were home.  Most of us had diplomats as parents, others business people; a few came from rich Swiss families. There were people from America, Europe, Asia, and many Jews and many Arabs, but in three years [of school we had] only one dispute about the Middle East conflict. We argued about football, not about politics.

Pak Chol was also on the football team, together with several Americans. One Israeli taught him basketball.  He also spent much time with a South Korean; I think this was because the South Korean could draw comics extremely well. Pak Chol liked comics; his favorite were Japanese manga.

As for girls, none of us had this much on the mind [nicht so viel am Hut], but there were parties. Strictly speaking, Chol was not very involved in these. I remember though, that he was a good student, especially in math. Now, this sounds perhaps as if he was a nerd, but that’s not accurate: he simply had it together [er war in Ordnung]. I never went to his house, even though we understood one another well [wir uns gut verstanden], but this in itself was nothing special. There were times when the Americans or the Israelis were also not easy to visit – because of the security provisions of the embassies.

The ISB is, as is known already, a special school, very expensive and very small: in total, we had maybe two or three hundred students, a maximum of 15 per class. The teachers were great, as was the overall environment [die Lage]. The school is situated outside of Bern, amid greenery, and with mountains all around, so in winter we went skiing every weekend.  There were always some projects going on: Once, we made compost and sold it Bern to raise money which we donated for a library in Togo. Pak Chol also joined in this activity.

When he [Pak Chol] arrived at the school, another North Korean came with him; he called himself Chung Kwang.  Chol and he were always brought to the school together [wurden immer gemeinsam in die Schule gebracht], they sat side by side and were always together otherwise. We thought nothing of it, as, sure, they were the only North Koreans. National identities seemed to play a very important role in this school. Yes, we often had to end new friendships, because through the transfer of their parents, some people left and new people came, and this process always felt faster with friends who came from your own country. Probably for this reason, no one particularly surprised when Pak Chol and Kwang Chung, sometime in 1998 it was, simply did not appear again.

Both North Koreans played a major role in sports. Pak Chol was quite talented. He was strong and ran fast, but he could not keep up with Kwang. Kwang had a body like Bruce Lee; he was an incredible athlete and the best striker [der beste Stürmer] on the football team. Because he played so well, Kwang was more popular than Chol, but that seemed not to have phased Chol. The two amused themselves a lot with entertaining action films, by Schwarzenegger, for example – and also martial arts. Kwang always tried to teach kung-fu to Chol, or karate; he was really good at it.

Now, if I think it over, considering the skills that Kwang showed to everyone, I can’t imagine that he was merely athletic. One time, he kicked a pencil from a fellow student’s mouth. That is surely not something a normal kid can do; he must have been trained as an athletic fighter [Kampfsportler]. Perhaps he was a soldier who just looked very young.

From the beginning, there were rumors that Chol was the son of North Korea’s dictator, and Kwang his bodyguard, but no one really seriously considered that it might be true.  And no one ever commented that one of the North Koreans seemed to order the other one around. And besides all that, we were in a school where nobody really noticed such things because everyone was so different [so verschieden] anyway.

Wenn ich heute in der Zeitung lese, dass mein Mitschüler Chol Pak der Nachfolger des nordkoreanischen Diktators werden soll, muss ich lachen.WhenWh These days, when I read in the newspaper that my fellow student Pak Chol is going to become North Korea’s dictator, I have to laugh.  It is simply absurd! Crazy [Verruckt]! I can not imagine that a dictator would come from our school. The school was actually permeated with concepts of tolerance and peace and equality [eigentlich dauernd um Toleranz und Frieden und Gleichberechtigung], holding hands and stuff. Naturally, I don’t mean it in a bad way and I don’t denigrate the experience at all: I loved my time at ISB, and I think everyone else did, too.  How much it influenced Pak Chol, I can’t say, of course, because it all happened so long ago. It’s probable that the North Korean in him is stronger than the International School-student, but sometimes I think about this way: At the end of the day, he experienced the Western culture in its best form. Mostly, I wonder only if he remembers me, and whether he will call me when he reads this.

Final Note: For more original reportage based on interviews with Kim’s schoolmates, see the Swiss-French magazine, L’Hebdo.

 

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