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Daily Archives: January 19, 2010

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All Roads Lead to Chongjin

Back in October 2009 I wrote about new tourism agreements put into place between North Korea’s North Hamgyong province and Chinese counterparts in Tumen city.  In spite of North Korea putting the brakes on foreign travel in North Korea last December, the trend toward cooperation resumes.  Today North Korea Economy Watch conveys news that Tumen-Chongjin rail travel will soon be possible. Here is the Korea Herald report:

China to renew border rail link with N.K.

China will mend a rail link between one of its border cities and a North Korean port, a source familiar with North Korean affairs said Sunday, a move that indicates stronger economic ties between the two allies, according to Yonhap News.

North Korea and the municipal government of the Chinese city of Tumen, which borders the North, have recently agreed to repair the railway linking the city with North Korea’s northeastern port of Chongjin, the source said.

The source, requesting not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, added Tumen will lend Pyongyang $10 million, which will partly fund the restoration of the 170-kilometer-long railroad. Construction is due to begin in April this year, he said.

“The agreement on repairing the railway indicates North Korea has also agreed on letting China use the Chongjin Port, which will give it better access to the East Sea,” another source said.

China — which views North Korea as underdeveloped in terms of technology, but a convenient source of minerals and natural resources — has been increasing its North Korea investment in recent years, reaching deals on mines, railways and leasing a North Korean port to a Chinese company.

Pyongyang has also been optimistic on forging economic pacts with China, apparently hoping more investment will help enhance its underdeveloped heavy industries sector. Border trade in consumer items, from televisions to beer, has been booming between the two countries since the 1990s, but industrial ties have been formed only recently.

Recall that on October 4, the day after he arrived in Pyongyang, Wen Jiabao’s delegate Wang Zhifa [王志发], the vice-minister of tourism in the PRC, signed an agreement with his DPRK counterpart [ 康哲洙 – Kang Choesu?] on tourism exchanges:

Signing Tourism Agreements, Oct. 4, 2009, Pyongyang -- via National Tourism Admin. of the PRC

While it is certainly appropriate for Wen Jiabao to bring a big posse to Pyongyang to discuss multiple levels of issues, something about this particular photo reminds me of Mao standing in the background holding his breath while Zhou Enlai sits down to ink the Sino-Soviet Alliance in 1950.  If something goes wrong, let the signatory take the fall, while Premier Wen can walk away unblemished if North Korea does something nuts, like, say, shoots a 53-year-old female tourist in the back.

But Vice-Minister Kang is a known entity to the Chinese, having attended conferences at the behest of the Jilin tourism bureau in 2007, as this data-rich report from China Economic Weekly reports; Kang also spent some time that year in Yanji.

Jiamusi, destination for North Hamgyong tourism officials -- via Wikipedia

Cross-provincial, trans-national linkages always get short shrift in Western analyses of North Korea and the Sino-North Korean relationship, which is too bad.  Why, for instance, isn’t it news when a North Hamgyong tourism delegation is traveling to Jiamusi, one of the most peripheral regions of Heilongjiang province, looking to increase Chinese tourism (and perhaps investment) in the DPRK?  (More info here.)

But all of this recent activity could also be seen in a rather ominous light.  Recent reports from within the DPRK note speculation among North Korean officials that the regime in Pyongyang is holding out a more-open Rajin as compensation for heightened — and deeply necessary — Chinese aid (see Good Friends Report No. 324: “”The Only Option is Full Collaboration with China,” Central Party Official says.”)

“We Are the Better West”:German Architecture Critic on Dubai’s New Tower of Babel

The other night I encountered a stupendous, if somewhat Chicken-Little-esque, review by Hanno Rauterberg in Die Zeit about the Burj Khalifa, the world’s new tallest building. Of interest here is the kind of recognition of the foot-dragging of Western democracies in producing such feats, and the sense of the global future tacking to the East.  And the fact that the review stems from a German critic who sees echoes of the Weimar period utopianism in this new global order makes the piece all the more delicious.

So here it is in four parts, minus fancy editing and three-piece suits by Leipzig tailors, but with the best German I can muster on a weeknight in North America.  If readers have suggestions for ways that I could continue such features in modified fashion, I’d welcome the feedback:

Neue Turm -- via Karim Sahib/Getty and Die Zeit

PRC Media on Inter-Korean Talks / Huanqiu Netizens vs. Human Rights Street Performance

China is sometimes accused of desiring something less than success for South Korean ventures in North Korea.   From such a perspective, industrial zones like Kaesong portend a South Korean takeover of North Korean industry (presupposing Korean unification) or imply that eastern Jilin province would lose every bit of South Korean won.   (The latter course presupposes that South Koreans could go to Paektusan via Ryanggang province, a la Kumgangsan, as North Korea has flirted with in the past, but which currently stands, like most things dealing with North Korean opening up, eternally at an inactionable juncture).

However, Chinese media seems at the moment to be more in an encouraging mode: the PRC wants North Korea back at the negotiation table with any and everybody.

Thus Huanqiu Shibao picks up a story about North and South Korea talking about industrial cooperation.

Huanqiu’s work (in Chinese) is based upon this Yonhap report (in English).  It’s an interesting contrast between the two: the Yonhap report focuses on the tumultous aspect of negotations (North Koreans refuse to have dinner with the Southerners and threaten to go to war over South Korean implications that the DPRK could collapse) while the Chinese version focuses on Rajin-Sonbong, the moribund special economic zone in Korea’s extreme northeast, abutting the Russian frontier.  Seafood is big business in the Russian Far East and in northeastern Korean-Chinese frontier, and Chinese web reporter Song Weigang emphasizes as such.


Now that this blog has added to the great harmony promoted in one area of the Chinese press, we can turn to the discord emanating from another area in the Chinese internet:

This Huanqiu (Global Times) BBS post attacks “shameless South Korean performance artists” for depicting Chinese repression of North Korean refugees.  (It’s available here in via Google translation for those who don’t want to slog through the 中文.)

The opening salvo goes a little something like this:


做这个行为艺术的所谓的韩国艺术家,首先他是韩国人,那么他的一切所谓的艺术涵养,和激发他有所谓的行为艺术灵感来自于他在韩国生活的社会背景和他所触及社会层次等等,他所触及这些点就可以反映出一个整体的人文背景等等,虽然他不能代表整体的韩国艺术,但是他的这一行为艺术却大大降低韩国人在世界人心目中的形象,更对行为艺术是一种侮辱,现在当代所谓的艺术家也不乏有很多是脑残人士!许多是只知皮毛喜欢抹点字就自以为是有文化的表现。 他的一切所作所为虽然来自于他本人思想,但是 ,既然是行为艺术,既然他在大众面前做起了行为艺术,做了所谓的展示,那么在国与国间他就是在展示韩国所谓的艺术,可能,韩国其他艺术人士并不赞同,这些是他们国内艺术人士之间自己的问题,但是,对于国际平台来说,他就是在展示他们的思想,他的却不能代表韩国人,韩国也不是只有那么几个人,那么如果要评论一个集体的整体情况还要去调查各家各户吗?如果要看一个国家的整体文化水平,非得一个个去参加测试?虽然那个所谓的行为艺术家,应该称为吧人体当游戏的无知者(在根本的道德修养上他就不配称为艺术家)但是韩国人在中国做过两件全国媒体都报道过的恶行时(第一件是珠海设厂的韩国老板(好像是雌的)逼迫其厂里的全体中国员工对其下跪;第二间是东莞某厂的韩国经理称中国保安是狗,还狡辩是文化差异),当韩国在他们三四年级时候教科书分册上宣传有个中国使臣来到朝鲜,作威作福,蛮横无理,提出三个问题要人回答时,威胁说如果回答不出就要如何如何,后果很严重。把这个用作全国的小学教材,韩国小孩从小心灵中就有“中国人蛮横无理”这种先入为主的印象,难道这些还不能充分体现一个国家的综合素质?难道我们这样说他也有不对? 他们在某些方面的却比我们国家先进,我们是值得去学习,但是要有自己的思想和见解,不要太盲目了!

The perpetrator of this insult is described as a “韩国艺术家” or a “Korean artist,” thus bypassing the entire point being made about refoulement of North Korean refugees in China at similar protests reported ably on by Dan Bielefeld on his photosite and at One Free Korea.

[Mini-update: the same photos appear to have been under discussion at an earlier date on the ChinaClub.com.cn site (in December 2008)  and on the Phoenix BBS.  All of which makes me wonder why these are making a reappearance now.  Is this part of some massive drive to divert attention from something else?]

Actor/Activist Depicts PLA Repression of North Korean Refugees (in the streets of Seoul, it appears), from Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times


In true form with internet reportage, I haven’t yet read through all the comments (six pages at current count), but these photos appear to date from 2004, and the comments don’t seem to indicate much sympathy for/knowledge about North Korean refugees and their status in the PRC.  Which begs the question: confrontational street tactics may be useful in mobilizing South Korean and US popular opinion against Sino-North Korean mistreatment of refugees, but how do they play in China?

On the forum of the Huanqiu bulletin boards, under the skewed guiding stars of uber-nationalism and censorship, we shall now have a chance to see.

震惊:无耻韩国人竟在街头如此侮辱中国做这个行为艺术的所谓的韩国艺术家,首先他是韩国人,那么他的一切所谓的艺术涵养,和激发他有所谓的行为艺术灵感来自于他在韩国生活社会背景和他所触及社会层次等等,他所触及这些点就可以反映出一个整体的人文背景等等,虽然他不能代表整体的韩国艺术,但是他的这一行为艺术却大大降低韩国人在世界人心目中的形象,更对行为艺术是一种侮辱,现在当代所谓的艺术家也不乏有很多是脑残人士!许多是只知皮毛喜欢抹点字就自以为是有文化的表现。 他的一切所作所为虽然来自于他本人思想,但是 ,既然是行为艺术,既然他在大众面前做起了行为艺术,做了所谓的展示,那么在国与国间他就是在展示韩国所谓的艺术,可能,韩国其他艺术人士并不赞同,这些是他们国内艺术人士之间自己的问题,但是,对于国际平台来说,他就是在展示他们的思想,他的却不能代表韩国人,韩国也不是只有那么几个人,那么如果要评论一个集体的整体情况还要去调查各家各户吗?如果要看一个国家的 整体文化水平,非得一个个去参加测试?虽然那个所谓的行为艺术家,应该称为吧人体当游戏的无知者(在根本的道德修养上他就不配称为艺术家)但是韩国人在中 国做过两件全国媒体都报道过的恶行时(第一件是珠海设厂的韩国老板(好像是雌的)逼迫其厂里的全体中国员工对其下跪;第二间是东莞某厂的韩国经理称中国保 安是狗,还狡辩是文化差异),当韩国在他们三四年级时候教科书分册上宣传有个中国使臣来到朝鲜,作威作福,蛮横无理,提出三个问题要人回答时,威胁说如果回答不出就要如何如何,后果很严重。把这个用作全国的小学教材,韩国小孩从小心灵中就有“中国人蛮横无理”这种先入为主的印象,难道这些还不能充分体现一个国家的综合素质?难道我们这样说他也有不对? 他们在某些方面的却比我们国家先进,我们是值得去学习,但是要有自己的思想和见解,不要太盲目了!