Author: Adam Cathcart

Meth, Road-Tripping, Drought, Aid, and Forbidden Love: Five North Korea Stories from China

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Sino-North Korean relations

Microblogging in English or Chinese continues to present limits on and challenges for academics who ‘watch’ Northeast Asia. Certainly, in the process of gathering information about the region, it has gotten rather easy to share pithy viewpoints, but the problem of why one is sharing a given piece of information is not always self-evident. Take these two tweets as a study in contrasts:   Personal blogs seem to be a good medium through which a slightly more considered and […]

On Kim Jong-un’s ‘Achievements’ and the North Korean-Chinese Relationship

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Kim Jong-un / North Korea / Sino-North Korean relations
Liu Hongcai, Chinese Ambassador in Pyongyang, extreme left, looks on while PRC Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu presents a gift to a nonplussed Kim Jong Il two days before his 69th birthday -- courtesy Huanqiu Shibao

This past December, many observers of the scene in northeast Asia had questions about the ‘three-year mourning period’ which was coming to an end, ostensibly, in North Korea. Since Kim Jong-il had been continuously eulogized and memorialized since his death, questions were being raised about Kim Jong-un possibly being seen as lacking in respect for his father. There were also questions about a possible change in course to the relationship with China — namely, could […]

The Perils of Reporting on North Korean Workers in China

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China / Manchuria / North Korea / North Korean border region / Sino-North Korean relations / Yanbian
Sim Chi Yin, Le Monde

On the last day of the wondrous month of May, Brice Pedroletti, the Le Monde correspondent in China, was in the city of Tumen, along the northernmost point of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  With him was travelling a photographer from Singapore; their task was to travel down the isolated stretch of the Tumen River (which is the border between China and the DPRK) in search of details about the recent rash of border […]

Data Points from a Summer of Ambivalence in Chinese-North Korean Relations

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China / North Korea / Sino-North Korean relations
PRC Ambassador

As  summer gets underway in earnest, China’s new Ambassador to North Korea is getting to work in Pyongyang and surrounding points. While Chinese academics fulminate at the lack of coordination offered by North Korea to its socialist ally, and PRC state media inexplicably seems to encourage various forms of speculation about Li Jinjun’s having been ‘frozen out’ from contact with North Korean officials, I thought it might be useful to revisit a few data points from last summer. […]

Williams and Wu, The Great Wall of Confinement: A Review

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Beijing’s pride in having hosted the 2008 Olympics and China’s protean economic growth contain a dark underside—unemployment, crime, corruption, and prison camps. Prison camps, or laogai, are the subject of Phillip F. Williams and Yenna Wu’s monograph which interweaves memoirs, fiction, and strands of social science and literary theory to uncover aspects of the contemporary Chinese prison camp. This text is not only important and innovative, it is glittering with details on a rarely revealed […]

On the disbandment of the DPRK’s Unhasu Orchestra and the reported death of several of its members

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Music / North Korea
Mun Kyong-jin in Paris, 2012

With respect to the matter of the Unhasu Orchestra “executions” which has been bubbling about since late August 2013, augmented by  JoongAng Ilbo reports of “stadium executions” in Wonsan in November 2013, and raised again with reports of grizzly executions of yet more musicians in spring 2015: Obviously, none of us is in possession of anything resembling a conclusive data point which would prove or deny the Unhasu assertions. What I have instead, besides my […]

North Korean Purges and Scuttlebutt

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American Foreign Policy / Sino-North Korean relations / US-North Korea relations
Screen shot 2015-05-29 at 14.53.06

A few days after publishing a 2500-word analysis of the Hyon Yong-chol purge aftermath (an abbreviated version of which was published by the Guardian), I spoke with Steve Miller of the Asia News Weekly podcast about a number of issues relating to North Korea and the situation in northeast Asia. A sound & video recording of our conversation, along with some prefatory text, is available here.