“Kim Jong Il Felicitates Chinese Leaders” — Updates on North Korean-Chinese Relations

I wish I could take credit for the title of this post, but it’s another idiomatic KCNA creation.   It headlines a story regarding Kim Jong Il’s praise to China on the 60th anniversary of the PRC.  Incidentally, although most of the document is strictly pro forma, Kim Jong Il made one comment that may be interpreted as dwelling at the intersection of Sino-NK relations and the politics of succession:

It is the consistent stand of the WPK [Workers’ Party of Korea, even though he just emasculated it further with the new Constitution] and the government of the DPRK to set store by this friendship that has stood all the trials of history and steadily consolidate and develop it generation after generation.

Perhaps Kim’s ostensible successors will be involved in the meetings as well.  At least according to one of my better sources in Beijing, Kim Jong Il has been eager to have his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, have contact with the Chinese leadership, partially as a way of bolsting the successor’s portfolio and legitimacy within the regime.  But I speculate, and offer you the verbal cue above.

In general, the Chinese media was keeping things quiet on the North Korean front last week, for a couple of reasons.  A) Nothing is more important to the CCP than reveling in their own glory and B) why not assure a free hand for Wen Jiabao when he arrives in Pyongyang?  No need to stir things up with some public debate about North Korea policy as raged this summer.

Now, for a few examples of Chinese media circumspection.  One Huanqiu story on how NK was not planning to honor UN Resolution 1887 was published, but its online version doesn’t allow comments.  And Lee Myung-bak’s remarks at G-20 that he will never recognize NK as a nuclear power are passed along by Chinese media, but again not prominently.   To balance out the ROK perspective, Xinhua runs bland representations of KCNA’s complaint that the Americans are still treating North Korea as an enemy country, without a true change in policy (没有丝毫变化).

There was a small amount of good news: tourism can now be undertaken to the DPRK, and Cuba, by Chinese without a visa.  (It looks like Wu Bangguo’s trip to see the Castro brothers in early September has paid off.  Now Cuba can start siphoning away part of that increasingly lucrative Chinese tourist trade away from the United States.  Why go to Las Vegas and wrangle with the Department of Homeland Security when you can just buy a plane ticket and show up to gamble in Cuba?)

The PRC did the courtesy of reprinting portions of the DPRK Foreign Ministry’s note of congratulations to China on the 60th anniversary.  Also commemorating China’s birthday, the North Koreans held the standard parties for the Chinese in Pyongyang.  Meanwhile, the Chinese dragged the DPRK’s ambassador in Beijing to the jaw-dropping new National Library for a little exhibition about North Korea.  Whether or not anyone takes a minute to look at it after the ambassador leaves, and the undoubtedly critical comments people will make, isn’t the important thing: what matters is that the North Korean ambassador and his staff had another chance to wet their pants about how wealthy China has become.  The new library puts the “People’s Cultural Palace” in Pyongyang way, way behind.   The old National Library in Beijing (Guotu)?  Maybe the North Koreans could compete.  But now that’s eroded, too.

Library-building is like an arms race in East Asia — really!  And the North Koreans are losing badly.  In fact, a large number of their students aren’t even going to school now because they are out helping their parents in the markets, doing conscript labor, or gathering weeds to eat.

Actions like “declarations of congratualations” or library visits by the DPRK ambassador may seem questionably significant, I will admit.   But, if we are listening for the silences in Sino-North Korean relations, they mean something.  If the Chinese had failed to print or publicize North Korea’s gesture, for instance, something would be amiss, as such things go a long way in the culture of socialist fraternalism.  Chuck Kraus had a very insightful post on this idea when North Korea failed to condemn publicly the riots in Xinjiang.

Now, one aspect in the bilateral relations that is frequently overlooked in favor of nuclear and refugee issues is culture.  There appears to be a push going on from North Korea for further cooperation in the movie industry:

A week of Chinese film show was opened with due ceremony at Taedongmun Cinema on Monday on the occasion of the “year of the DPRK-China friendship”.

Present there were Paek Han Su, vice-chairman of the State Film Commission of the DPRK, officials concerned, creators and artistes in the field of movie industry and art and working people in Pyongyang.

On hand were the Chinese moviemen’s delegation headed by Zhao Haicheng, assistant president of the China Film Group Corporation, Chinese Ambassador to the DPRK Liu Xiaoming and staff members of his embassy and Chinese guests staying in the DPRK.

Lest this be interpreted as an example of sadae, “serving the great”, or flunkeyism to China, on the same day a larger event was held for Koreans, by Koreans:

A symposium of the Juche-based idea of literature and art on the feature film “The Country I Saw” (parts 2 and 3) took place Monday.
Present there were Choe Ik Gyu, department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Pyong Hun, chairman of the Central Committee of the General Federation of the Unions of Art and Literature of Korea, officials concerned, creators and artistes in the field of movie industry and teachers and researchers at universities. Speakers at the symposium said that the film chose the international position and significance of the Songun politics pursued by leader Kim Jong Il as its theme and explained it in depth.

Dealing with the pressing issue of the modern international politics an answer to which is called for by the world progressive conscience, the film explains through high artistic representation the philosophical truth that national independence is guaranteed by the might of the single-minded unity of the army and people around the leader and powerful military power and that Songun means independence, justice and victory, they noted.

They also referred to the fact that the film actively introduced the latest science and technology, thus laying a springboard from which to make a new leaping advance in the efforts to put the nation’s level of movie production onto a higher stage.

They recalled that creators and artistes properly chose the seed as required by the basic principle for creating Korean-style revolutionary literature and art and effected signal innovations in the movie production by waging a drive day and night in the collectivist spirit.

They called upon all creators and artistes to draw on the achievements and experience gained in the production of the film and create more masterpieces of the era which will encourage the servicepersons and people in their drive to effect a new great revolutionary surge.

So much for opening up and liberalization on the Chinese model.  It’s a perfect example of North Korea appearing to reach out for help from China and then beating it back, almost viciously, with this kind of sogun-juche nonsense.  It’s bifurcated behavior, to be sure.

Another area where North Korea is hedging against Chinese influence is in telecommunications.  North Korea is cutting deals with an Egyptian telecom firm, Orascom, to set up cellular service in its country.  Why not just use China Mobile, you ask?  Well, it’s all about juche economics; the Chinese have already inflicted a great deal of pain upon the regime’s desire to remain closed to outside information with the extensive cell phone networks along the border.  And thus the chairman of Orascom gets feted in Pyongyang shortly before Wen Jiabao arrives.

Pyongyang, September 30 (KCNA) — Order of the DPRK Friendship First Class was awarded to Naguib Sawiris, chairman and CEO of the Orascom Telecom Holding of Egypt, in recognition of the positive contributions he has made to developing the relations of friendship and economic cooperation between the DPRK and Egypt with his boundless respect and reverence for General Secretary Kim Jong Il.

Did North Korea ever say anything so nice about the huggable Wen Jiabao?  Maybe Wen hasn’t expressed sufficiently boundless respect and reverence for his needy neighbor.  Well, at least Kim Jong Il was there to greet him at the airport, unlike Bill Clinton or Madeline Albright.  And the two men had a couple of hugs and pecks on the cheek.  Kim Jong Il looked good and animated, like the actor he is, like a man preparing to have a very good glass of wine at an early lunch.

从环球时报 -- note how the NK handler in the background seems to have the journalist, right and kneeling, on a leash -- And domestic internet commentary on this trip is sure to be rather restrained.

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