Northeast Asia Currents

1. China appoints a new ambassador to Seoul.

Yang Houlan gets picked for the job:

Yang is well-versed in Korean affairs, having worked as deputy chief of mission and minister counselor at the Chinese embassies in Seoul and Pyongyang. He was ambassador to Afghanistan from March 2007 to April 2009.

He would be the first Chinese ambassador to Seoul with an American university background, unlike his predecessors, who studied at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. But like Li Bin and Ning Fukui before him, Yang rises to the post after working in lower positions at both Korean embassies.

This now means, among other things, that both of China’s Korea ambassadors are U.S.-educated.

2. South Korea and China are on the cusp of several spats.

All of this could be overblown, but there is not a lot of love lost right now in the South Korean-Chinese relationship.  Korean newspapers write condescending things (“China today=South Korea in 1988, if they’re lucky”) and Chinese get upset about South Korean historical issues they see as impinging upon the Chinese past, among other things.  The South Korean press is wary of China’s expanding self-confidence (here in a poetically-drawn Chinese-language article).  According to the Chosun Ilbo’s Hong Kong correspondent, “China is changing at the speed of light,” making business adaptation particularly necessary.

By the same token, the PRC leadership seems to clearly recognize South Korea’s importance in the project of an East Asian common community, and no one wants to lose market share.   Xi Jinping’s December trip to the ROK went virtually unnoticed in the West (as opposed to his well-publicized meeting in Tokyo with Emperor Akihito), but the two countries seem to be moving in relatively close accord as regards North Korea.

The Chosun Ilbo (Chinese edition) carries a sweeping special editorial about China’s rising confidence in 2010, and how the Chinese people are “losing interest” in South Korea.  One of the more interesting points made in this piece is that Chinese leaders are glad to get all the commemorations and negative anniversaries of 2009 out of the way.

Chinese netizens respond here to South Korean speculation on the notion of a Chinese renaissance that will reach the levels of the West; the original Huanqiu summary is here.  I suppose this confirms that the Huanqiu Shibao is a significant periodical because it serves as a lazy way for millions of Chinese to find out what the rest of the world is saying about China.

South Korean news sites in Chinese speculate on the role played by the retiring generation of CCP leaders like Zhu Rongji and Wu Yi.

3. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Predicts North Korean Collapse, Again

Daniel Blumenthal and his research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute published an editorial last week which is worth reading.  Blumenthal is a knowledgeable hawk, but this editorial is full of misconceptions.    So instead we turn to as is pointed out in a solid post by Juchechosunmanse.  JCM takes apart the editorial nicely with a logic based upon reading of the last few months’ news in Sino-North Korean relations.

I would add that Blumenthal may be less interested in forcing a change in Obama administration policy than engaged in a spate of publications of middling quality as a means of angling for a Northeast Asia position in whatever Republican administration comes next (assuming we are all still holding elections after the Rapture hits).  A voice in the wilderness!    However, it is a wilderness with a megaphone provided by Rupert Murdoch: I find it particularly interesting that what passes for conventional wisdom in some circles in Washington is almost never refuted in papers like the Washington Post or the New York Times, much less the Wall Street Journal.  So instead we turn to blogs.

In other news:

– the Daily NK reports that North Koreans are buying Chinese rice around Changbai;

– the LA Times correspondent in Beijing, Barbara Demick, has a new book out (reviewed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, hat tip to Joshua Stanton for this entry);

– Japanese scholars have dug up some new photographs of the Korean War from British archives:

British troops clown with Kim Il Song portraits -- via Huanqiu Shibao


  1. “I suppose this confirms that the Huanqiu Shibao is a significant periodical because it serves as a lazy way for millions of Chinese to find out what the rest of the world is saying about China.”

    This is true to a large extent, I think. Huanqiu Shibao is very widely read and popular, especially by people who are interested in foreign affairs. However, the editors (ie. Party leadership) tend to edit the paper so that foreign opinion (often labeled as 西方媒体 (the Western Media),韩媒 (the Korean Media)…even if it is an editorial in a non-prominent media outlet) so that foreigners are either lavishing wise and (certainly objective) praise on China’s leadership and policies, or these 吃饱了没事干的 foreigners are slanderously interfering in China’s internal affairs, whipping up discord, and hurting the feelings of the nation. There are many editorials in the foreign press that do attempt for nuance and various points of view. You’ll never see these translated or introduced in full.

  2. William,

    I don’t know if you guys actually read the paper or just the website which are two very different entities. I find the website too jingoistic and noisy for my taste, I prefer the actual paper, which I find a lot more balanced and better laid-out.

    For the most part I agree with you, for example the front page (A1) and the last page (A16), a place usually reserved for the main stories/major news events of the day that somehow have something to do with China, which tend to have quite catchy titles and nationalistic and sometimes even bordering angry tones. Fortunately much of the rest of the paper doesn’t follow the same trend (at least not to me). I was pleasantly surprised that a section of the paper is dedicated to translations of foreign articles and analysis that in my opinion are quite truthful to the originals. Some of these articles can be pretty bluntly critical of China, kind of like some of the stuff you read on Cankao Xiaoxi.

    Personally I think it is OK to have sections of a paper (like Huanqiu Shibao) or an entire paper (like Cankao Xiaoxi) dedicating to stuff translated into Chinese from foreign media sources about newsworthy stuff in general so those Chinese readers who don’t speak a foreign language catch a glimpse of the foreign perspectives on certain things and issues; however the Chinese have become quite obsessed with what foreigners say about China and that, I think, is totally unhealthy and unnecessary. It is that inferiority complex that they can’t seem to get rid of again.

  3. @Juchechosunmanse- Yes, I think you’re right in that having an obsession, of sorts, about what others feel think about you isn’t healthy. Another problem is, very few Chinese readers (to my knowledge) read the Western press in general, to see how the US, Europe, and other parts of the world are covered. This would put coverage of China into a broader context, which is often missing.

    I used to read the paper version of 环球时报 almost every day (a few years ago). Clearly, the paper has merits. They do cover a lot of the world, and as long as an issue doesn’t affect China’s interests too directly (say, elections in Mexico or something) then the reporting tends to be really good. In fact, you might be hard pressed to find a daily paper in the West that covers as much of the world on a daily basis and is as widely read. With that said, the headlines and articles on many important issues are often tabloid-esque, mixing journalism and opinion to an outrageous degree. And, although they do translate many foreign observations, they often edit out certain parts that are important (without telling the reader), and this is intentionally misleading, and creates the feeling that one has the objective truth, and one is formulating one’s political beliefs without any sense of coercion or brainwashing. In that regards, it’s not unlike the CIA’s infiltration of European media in the 1950’s, in which the goal was to make European citizens come around to a pro-American point of view while feeling like they made their views on their own volition.

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