News and Background on Sino-Korean Relations

The South Korean satellite launch is getting short shrift in American media, but the PRC’s Global Times gives it top billing. I think this indicates that China is, as it ought to be, still skeptical toward both Koreas and that rebuking the DPRK over its recent hard line does not automatically equate to full embrace of ROK imperatives.

ROK missile courtesy Xinhua

I’m finishing up a review for Korean Studies of the following text which deals with these issues exhaustively, and I recommend the text for more background on the complexities and the peculiarly pragmatic logic of the Chinese-South Korean relationship:

Jae Ho CHUNG, Between Ally and Partner: Korea—China Relations and the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

One of the more interesting things to come from this text is its discussion of the key role played by activist provincial leaders in Shandong and Liaoning. In fact these two “gateway” provinces to Korea were quite competitive with one another, and sneakily so, in opening up trade with South Korea in the 1980s.

I find it a telling commentary that in spite of lip service to “autonomy” for Yanbian and the ethnic Koreans in that region (which was founded in 1952 at the height of the carnage on the Korean peninsula and led ably for many years by Cho Dok-hae/Zhu Dehai/朱德海), that Yanbian seemed to play no critical or unique role whatsoever in establishing economic ties with the ROK. Perhaps Yanbian was an anchor instead of trade with the DPRK and cross-provincial relationships with North Hamgyong.

This calls to mind that if we analyze Chinese provincial dynamics in the relations with South Korea, then why not do more study of North Korean provincial dynamics in the relationship with China? We know so much now about the failed experiment with an autonomous Sinuiju city which imploded earlier in the decade, but interest in that fiasco seems to focus on the storied Yang Bin and not on how or why a city or a province in North Korea might find the necessary space for economic experimentation.

Those waiting for the North Korean Deng Xiaoping might be waiting for a long time. At the same time, provincial impetus for reform would be a logical place to look for signs of experimentation.

I very much enjoy resources like NK Economy Watch and the excellent reports from the US Institute of Peace, which have previously been linked and to a lesser extent analyzed on this blog. However, I am yet unaware of specific online resources which focus exclusively on specific cities or regions of North Korea.

The Daily NK offers up a fair amount of news, of course, originating from the border provinces, but it would seem logical for the next step to be blogs or news feeds where one can drill down into news focusing specifically on, say, North Hamgyong province, or perhaps the large cities of Hyesan or Kanggye.

University of North Korean Studies in Seoul has students working on cross-border culture in the upper Tumen valley, but apart from that I am still unaware of projects focused in the way I describe above.

Of course, one extensive journal article was recently published on Sinuiju and North Pyong’an province, and its tendency to split off from Pyongyang’s direction. In fact, this article is also, to my knowledge, the only in-depth treatment of the only instance of wide-scale internal revolt in North Korea’s history:

Adam Cathcart and Charles Kraus, “Peripheral Influence: The Sinuiju Student Incident and the Soviet Occupation of North Korea, 1945-1947,” Journal of Korean Studies Vol. 13, No. 1 (Fall 2008), 1-28.

Korean War Memorial, Missoula, Montana
Korean War Memorial, Missoula, Montana
Jae Ho CHUNG, Between Ally and Partner: Korea—China Relations and the United States. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

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