Interpreting North Korean Forest Fires

Chinese internet sites are now reporting on the extensive forest fires in North Korea.  Most interesting is how they are interpreting the fires, emphasizing the idea that they may be occurring around North Korean missile launching sites. The Reuters report in which this speculation is buried is here.   Yet somehow the Chinese media makes it the headline.   Is this another subtle means of putting pressure on North Korea, more confirmation of central over local imperatives in reporting North Korea-related news, or a sop to Chinese nationalists eager to look down on North Korea?

Comments on the relevant Chinese BBS:  “Those idiots are grilling chicken,” “America is putting on a show for the pig farmers,” and, in response, the original commenter returns to say “No, you American dog, they are grilling chicken.”  In other words, nothing very intelligent, but Chinese jokes about what North Koreans are eating (or not eating) can sometimes be considered worthy of attention.

(Hat tip to the Chollima searching skills of Juchechosunmansei, who posted the link in response to my CCP-exasperation on One Free Korea.)

None of this seems to have prevented Kim Jong Il from having a delightful time yesterday in the epicenter of state power, Pyongyang.  Life is good in the capital, where construction of new apartments is proceeding apace.  NK Leadership Watch provides a comprehensive look at Kim Jong Il’s perorations through Pyongyang’s architectural glory.   Perhaps North Korea  is considering following one specific Chinese model for social stability of floating populations: settle them in giant apartment blocs and get the video cameras going.


  1. Thanks Adam. I actually first saw it on sohu, about three days ago. And I was like, wow, the Chinese media finally reported it. Thought you would have caught it as you are truly equipped with “the Chollima searching skills”, 🙂

    I am giving up on Stanton as I found out that his blog is just a 一言堂 where no different opinions are allowed. I used to think only the righties were this intolerant and obnoxiously self-righteous, apparently the lefties are equally capable.

    By the way, if you don’t mind (and feel free to delete the following messages if you do) I will post my response to Stanton since there is absolutely no way in hell that he is going to allow it:

    [quote]Stanton, let’s have some common sense here, shall we? Show me just one, just one example where sanctions actually worked. They certainly didn’t work in Cuba, Iraq (pre-US invasion), Libya and Myanmar. “Showing some signs of working”? What signs Stanton? To me the DPRK is as defiant as ever and there are no signs showing that they will denuclearize at all. The only positive sign, which is the Dear Leader telling the Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao that the DPRK would consider coming back to the 6-party talks IF the outcome between the DPRK-US talk is positive enough, was secured by China bribing the Dear Leader to make it happen. Nevertheless it IS a step forward. I don’t see what the Americans can achieve by simply playing tough. The Americans have been playing tough for decades. Clinton didn’t get the DPRK to sign the Agreed Framework in 1994 by only playing tough. That’s why I was saying Obama doesn’t really have a North Korea policy. If he does, it is apparently not working.

    Tell me again Stanton, exactly how do you “slow the regime’s WMD development and destabilize the regime”? By imposing sanctions again? FYI the DPRK has been under sanctions for more than a decade and it has not budged. I certainly understand why you want to destablize the DPRK government, however don’t expect the Chinese and even the South Koreans to come on board. It is easy for you Americans to do stuff to destablize country A and country B in regions far away, the neighbors will have to suffer the direct consequences of a country getting destablized. Neither China nor South Korea wants the DPRK to destablize and collapse all of sudden.

    And for the Nth time Stanton, explain to me (and with some facts and sources) why it is in China’s interest to have a nuclear DPRK. Explain to me why China has been eager to re-start the 6-party talks. Explain to me why China is trying to persuade the US and the DPRK to come together and have an one-on-one. Why is China doing all of these if China simply wants to go ahead and allow the DPRK to stay nuclear?

    It is funny that you accused me of not “citing facts, making coherent arguments, or making arguments civilly”. What facts have you cited to show that there are signs of the sanctions working? What facts have you cited to show that China not only tolerates but actually wants a nuclear DPRK?

    And if what I wrote yesterday was too much for you, too bad Stanton. I was merely trying to make the point that (1) the US should sit down with the DPRK to have an one-on-one and (2) don’t be so hypocritical to accuse China of violating a UN resolution while overlooking the fact that US has done it too, many times.

    I didn’t know that your blog doesn’t allow different opinions. In a way you are like the Chinese President who just wants a harmonious place. [/quote]

    1. Nice! And I think the 一言堂 comparison on Stanton’s blog in many ways bears out; I had a rather huge comment on his recent attack on Bruce Cumings which he allowed but was pretty much ignored. I don’t think he has read most of the relevant works on the Korean War, but what the hell. He has provided a good place to mix it up from time to time and his links are usually pretty interesting, even when he links to himself, which he’s got the right to do. What find most intriguing is that he’s on the Wall Street Journal’s short list for interviewers. That line between blogging and journalism again…

      Which reminds me: if the New York Times is really so liberal, then why does David freaking Frum get the NYT editorial page to threaten China after the October 2006 DPRK nuclear test rather than you threatening the DoD with peace?

      It seems that the end of the Korean War might finally be justified in the US not by some deep understanding of North Korean psychology but by the idea that there is no point in containing Chinese power via South Korea (Jae Ho Chung’s new book on ROK-PRC relations being worth a read), but instead that it is just too damn expensive.

      And is there something axiomatically wrong about considering what Okinawa would look like without US troops? I suppose the deep structural problem with US troops backing away from Asia is the inevitable resurgence in Japanese military power…. Chalmers Johnson needs to do some long PBS seminars, but the closet rollbackers in Congress would scream. Well, let them scream!

      In general I think that even in our allegedly forward-looking country that when it comes to North Korea, it is very difficult to envision what a transformed relationship would look like. That is why I find it important to understand China’s (admittedly unique) “normal” relationship with North Korea — in other words, what does a normal relationship look like with this “abnormal” country?

      There is such a huge lack of education about North Korea, not just at the university level but among researchers. Only a hundful of people writing in English have any interest in the sociological meaning, say, of the Arirang preparations and performances…

      Anyway, good sir, now I’m off your topic and thinking aloud in the wee hours. In any case, I am most glad again to see you here! Thanks for the comment.

  2. Thanks Adam again. I am currently reading Scott Snyder’s “China’s Rise and the two Koreas”, it is a fascinating (albeit sometimes dry and boring) and interesting read. You can clearly see the DPRK’s distrust of China and they are quite good at playing the US off against China. That’s why I was telling Stanton that I just don’t get it why the Americans wouldn’t sit down with the North Koreans for an one-on-one: This is what they are doing to Myanmar (to China’s dismay), so why not the DPRK? I can’t totally see why the Chinese might not be so thrilled to see that happen, but even China is selflessly trying to persuade the US and the DPRK to sit down together, that goes to show how anxious the Chinese are to make some headway in this North Korean nuclear crisis. That’s why I thought Stanton was completely clueless and stupid when he repeatedly said China wants the DPRK to hold on to its nukes.

    A lot of folks in America don’t seem to be able to fathom that the US can have a normal relationship with the DPRK. I don’t get it. After all the US is having a pretty normal relationship with China and Vietnam, isn’t it? Many western European countries have normal and formal relations with the DPRK. Why can’t the US? They are no swarms of die-hard Korean Americans (unlike those Cuban Americans) who will vote any party who dares to get softer on the DPRK out of the White House. South Korea would certainly not object to the warming-up of US-DPRK relations, neither will Japan. China might be the only country who will be a little at loss. I have always believed that the key to solve this nuclear crisis is to make the North Koreans feel safe, that they will not be attacked by the US. The North Koreans are dying to have a normal relationship with the US. They want a pledge from the Americans saying the US will not attack the DPRK. Why not give them what they want?

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