The Chosun Ilbo reported today, via Voice of America:
China says it has filed a formal complaint with North Korea about the killing of three Chinese citizens last week by a North Korean border guard.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang says a fourth person was wounded when the guard opened fire from his post across the border from China’s northeastern town of Dandong last Friday. Qin says the four Chinese citizens were shot by the North Korean guard on suspicion of crossing the border for illegal trade activities.
Why we as readers are considered unworthy of a direct quote here, much less a link to Qin Gang’s original statement, is beyond me. (Fortunately, Sinoglot has some very good ideas today about why we generally lack translations or links to things Chinese in the Anglophone press.) Of course, the English-language site of the Foreign Ministry has yet to include a translation, and, true to their track record, will probably neglect to translate the sensitive stuff about North Korean-Chinese relations.
So instead we have to go to the Chinese version of the Foreign Ministry page where we find that Qin Gang was terse in the extreme. But he certainly didn’t say “no comment” [translation by Adam Cathcart]:
问：据韩国媒体报道，在中朝边界发生了枪击事件，有中国人死亡，请确认。中方对此有何评论？Q: According to South Korean media reports, an incident with firearms occurred on the Chinese-North Korean border in which a Chinese person died. Please confirm. Does China have any criticism toward this [report/action]?
答：6月4日凌晨，辽宁省丹东市居民因涉嫌越境从事边贸活动遭到朝鲜边防部队枪击，造成3人死亡，1人受伤。事发后，中方高度重视，立即向朝方进行严正交涉。目前此案正在进一步调查和处理过程中，相信有关部门会适时发布有关情况。A: Early in the morning on June 4, citizens of Dandong city in Liaoning province whom [we] suspect of crossing the border illegally for trade activities were shot by a North Korean border patrol, killing three people and wounding one. After this incident, to which the Chinese side attaches high importance, [we] sternly negotiated with the North Korean side. Now an investigation of this incident is continuing, and we trust that the relevant departments will publicize the relevant situation in due course.
Since Chinese people cross the border all the time, it’s possible that Jang Song-taek ordered this incident to coincide with his formal elevation to Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Commission. Jang has taken credit in the past for tightened regulation on the border, and shooting Chinese capitalists accords about with his documented distrust of market activities on the northern periphery of the DPRK. (Just in case you hadn’t heard, the best source of Jang Song-taek reporting and news aggregating in English is available on Mike Madden’s NK Leadership Watch; Madden’s report today is particularly relevant.)
Daily NK, even the Chinese version, has no reports on this border shooting incident yet, and One Free Korea, who is usually on this kind of story with alacrity, at least has some action in the comments section of his blog, with the standard gratuitous attacks on John Feffer and Christine Ahn.
Although the rollback crowd thinks it’s all bunk (probably because “中方高度重视” means nothing in particular to them, and they don’t read Huanqiu Shibao or spend time in Chinese circles, much less work annually at the PRC Foreign Ministry), I wouldn’t underestimate the extent to which North Korea is steadily alienating China. Perhaps with enough aid from the UN, seduction of the new Europe, a little bit of intriguing new tourism, and ongoing work in illegal economic sectors, the DPRK can limp along and fund its military-first policy without China’s full-throated support. After all, at least last week, that throat appeared to be filling with blood.
Something tells me the Chinese Ambassador in Pyongyang is going to be busy with a lot more than the annual photo op on the collective farm outside of Pyongyang:
Or perhaps the powdered beauties of Pyongyang singing foreign songs for Embassy officials like “Without the Communist Party there would be no New China,” all the frustration with the DPRK will simply be lost in the belly of a golden drum. But it’s unlikely.
Finally, back to the big picture: If you can read the full text of the PRC Foreign Ministry press conference, it’s evident that China is trying to play down the border incident and keep the focus today on cementing good ties with the new Japanese administration. North Korea’s aggressive missteps on the North Pyong’an/Liaoning border seem to reinforce the idea of China’s increasingly parallel, if far from wholly congruent, interests with Japan as the DPRK’s northern border again bristles with arms.