A Frenchman in Pyongyang

While Anglophone Korea-watchers are checking up on U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth’s itinerary and insouciantly lining him up in a rhetorical 3-4 formation next to to 1980s football linebacker sensation Brian “the Bozz” Bosworth, France’s envoy Jack Lang has finally hit Pyongyang.

Jack Lang shakes hands with an unnamed North Korean counterpart in Pyongyang, via KCNA/Xinhua/Huanqiu Shibao

He’ll be in North Korea for a total of five days, exploring the possibility of French recognition of North Korea (here, France is alone in Europe [except for Estonia] in not having done so), doing some obligatory finger-wagging about the North’s nuclear program, and hyping French business concerns in areas like energy extraction.

Lang said he had no comment on the question, but it’s unlikely that he will be allowed to meet Kim Jong-il.  In fact, it would be very unusual for Kim to grant him an audience; current and former heads of state and occasionally Secretaries of State (e.g. Madeline Albright) will make the cut, but not special envoys.

And speaking of comments, the French “netizens” are keeping up with their Chinese counterparts by commenting vigorously on the Lang visit.  For a taste, click here for 167+ comments on the latest Liberation story on his mission.   I enjoyed this one in particular, as it addresses some concerns had among the French regarding Lang’s competence to achieve the desired goal (diplomatic relations and business ties) with the North:

Bill Clinton, non plus, ne parle par Coreen. Mais on l’a envoye en Coree du Nord pour negocier le liberation d’otages. C pareil pour Jack lang. Il est relativement connu, mondialement. Il a aussi une competence ministerielle. Il sait comment fonctionne l’etat. 15 ans dans les ministeres et 30 ans al l’assemblee lui ont appris tout cela. A 65 ans, il n’a plus besoin de se battre pour changer le monde. Il veut laisser son emprunte et ses competences au service de son pays. J’en suis persuade.

or, roughly,

Bill Clinton also did not speak Korean, but he was sent to North Korea to negotiate the release of hostages.  It’s the same for Jack Lang.  He is relatively well known, globally.  He also has the ministerial-level qualifications and functions as a state actor.  It’s all there: 15 years as a minister and 30 years in the Assembly.  At age 65, he doesn’t need to do more to prove he can change the world.  Now he wants to lend [emprunte/借入/jie ru] his competencies in service of the state.  I’m convinced.  [Note: unlike on Chinese BBS, this commentor yannick007 has a profile and all]

Meanwhile, Le Figaro’s eloquently-named reporter/Beijing blogger Arnaud de la Grange keeps up his coverage of the DPRK with a note on the Dear Leader’s distaste for capitalistic television advertisements.
Chinese news media is not happy at all about the North Koreans taking the axe to these tender shoots of Chinese-style reforms, and reports on the television-ad imbroglio in Huanqiu ShibaoReader comments on the story are not very plentiful, but they are nicely conflicted, from “I watched a documentary last night on the October Revolution…American capitalism is going down” to “You must die, and have not long to live!” and the short exhortation, also to North Korea, “Just reform and open up!”
But the most interesting BBS comment needs a little explanation.  The Huaqiu headline reads  韩媒称金正日指示禁播广告, which, with my emphasis, reads “South Korean media reports that Kim Jong Il forbids television advertisement,” which is a typical way that China softens the blow to North Korean pride.  “See,” such a headline seems to say, “it isn’t us reporting that you’re all nuts, or that Kim Jong Un is 26 years old and in Beijing this week, it’s just those unscrupulous South Koreans over at Yonhap!”  So the Huanqiu reader both calls out the Chinese media and lays out an ur-nationalism critique of Korea by saying this:


Oh oh, once again it’s a “South Korean media report.”  But what does South Korean media report anyway?  “Chinese civilization is Koguryo civilization” and “The whole globe should be called Korea.”
However, the Chinese are nevertheless dutifully supporting Lang’s mission to the North, as seen in this English-language CCTV clip.
Maybe they have been reading this essential story about a theme I’ve been harping on consistently, that is, anti-Chinese sentiment in North Korea.
Jack Lang et entourage en Pyongyang, le capitale l'Coree du Nord -- image KCNA/Xinhua via Huanqiu Shibao


    1. I got excited by the buzzsaw “zz” that you incorporated and immediately thought back to another glorious era! Of course, in spite of his snazzy tortoiseshell glasses Stephen Bosworth is hardly a rangy and aggressive middle linebacker, but perhaps he has potential to be, as Springsteen was for the ehemaliger GDR, a kind of harbinger of Western freewheeling rock n’roll, with all its subversive connotations.

      I did a little work in the East German archives this summer and found that Springsteen was a very, very feared (and truly potent) presence in Berlin, and that the North Koreans took note.

      But on a less serious note, we might parallel cagey, joyful Brett Farve’s return to the NFC Central to Bill Clinton’s comeback drive to Pyongyang. Nothing like someone who has found his purpose in life.

  1. Perhaps the Korean gentleman in photo 1 is Pak Ui Chun, minister of foreign affairs of the DPRK.


    At a bare minimum, it appears that neither he nor the Frenchman on the left appears to be versatile Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Hines Ward, who is perhaps the greatest secret weapon in the diplomatic arsenal of the Obama administration. But perhaps the North Koreans would settle for Zidane, who seems to have something of the Korean character about him, impetuous, proud, strong.

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