Borderland Banditry

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.

Qin Gang, Pretty in Pink in Beijing

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:

Courtesy Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang; click image for story (in Chinese) and photo gallery

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.


  1. As one of those people who reads Huanqiu Shibao, I am happy to provide this link for perusal at your convenience:

    Just in case the above news item somehow disappears by the time you read this message, here are the best bits as selected by Spelunker:

    据一位了解此事的丹东当地人8日对《环球时报》讲述,中国船是在晚上开到朝鲜新义州附近的,船上的边民用朝鲜语与对方来人搭话,在手电筒的光照下,才发现对方是朝鲜边防军。而朝鲜士兵没有确认来者身份就开枪了。 驾船逃回来的人中有2人因伤势过重死亡,1人失踪。一天后,失踪的边民尸体在江中被发现。不过据说这人是拿朝鲜护照长期在中国居住的朝鲜人。



    And here’s my favorite reader’s comment from the Chinese netizenry:

    1. Thanks to two of my favorite Netizens for those juicy links, and apologies for not getting the comments approved sooner; I’m presently in the socialist paradise of Iceland and getting geared up for another push.

  2. My apologies for not offering at least an English summary of the article I referenced. I posted it just minutes before the start of the NBA Finals Game 3 between the Celtics and Lakers.
    Huanqiu Shibao offers a preposterous suggestion that the North Koreans may have mistaken the Chinese smugglers for South Korean spies, thus the reason for shooting them: 当时中国边民讲朝鲜语,又身穿迷彩服,朝鲜士兵有可能以为是韩国间谍,所以就开了枪。 Would a South Korean spy really take a boat across the Yalu between the populated areas of Dandong and Sinuiju? I don’t think so. There are remote unpopulated areas further downstream where spies could cross the Yalu quite easily without getting caught. Anyway, Yonhap News Agency reported that the Chinese smugglers were well known in Sinuiju so there is little doubt that the North Koreans didn’t know who they were shooting.

    My favorite Chinese comment: “支持朝鲜的都是些没文化的痞子” “Those who support North Korea are all a bunch of uncultured riffraff.”

    1. The ever present thread of mistrust toward South Korea….and it’s too bad Ray Allen didn’t bring his ‘A’ game in Game 3, your comment got me checking out the highlights from Iceland

  3. In lieu of a mega-post which would necessitate translating on all the stuff coming out on Huanqiu Shibao on this topic — Xinhua appears to have really opened the floodgates — here are some further updates. Two of these stories have over 1600 comments respectively!

    The newest, 外媒分析中国对朝强硬表态 专家称不会影响中朝关系, describes foreign media reports on the incident, including the Washington Post article which One Free Korea so worshipfully links while feigning knowledge of Chinese media discourse on DPRK (; it also has a long quote from Gong Zhao [吕超] from Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences who notes the sea change in that in the past, these kind of incidents were never made public: ““过去中朝之间确实发生过类似事件,官方没有通过公开方式发表观点。我认为,这次事件被外电广泛关注是因为天安舰事件背景,外界想以此事窥探中朝关系。实际上,中国官方的说法并没有什么值得奇怪之处,过去我们不说什么不表示以后不发表看法,这次表态显示我们十分重视此事件,对朝鲜进行交涉十分正常。我认为,这件事还上升不到影响中朝关系的地步,双方需要妥善处理,避免日后发生类似事件。”

    Then we have this article entitled 知情者讲述中国船遭朝枪击:士兵未确认来者身份就开枪 which has over 1700 comments at present and purports to get testimony from/an interview with/ “a Dandong local with knowledge of the situation” [据一位了解此事的丹东当地人8日对《环球时报》讲述]

    Then the front page story on Huanqiu’s opinion page is an exhortation by a Chinese scholar for North Korea — the very same Gong Zhao of Liaoning, in fact! — to account publicly for the shootings, which sounds something linke a demand for an apology: 吕超:枪击中国边民,朝鲜应有说法

    The original short news report on the incident has now picked up over 1600 netizen comments

    And just in case you didn’t get it, Huanqiu reissues the MFA press conference with photos of Qin Gang looking very stern

    I’ve recapped the two links left by those capable (e.g., fluent, sane, and willing to spread the knowledge) commenters Spelunker and Juchechosunmanse and would invite them both to add to this thread; your comments should be approved automatically at this point.

    Finally, along those lines, last week ChinaSmack had a feature translating netizen comments on Kim Jong Il:

    1. Thanks JCM, I just did a scad of Tweets about all this…But again it would probably be better for me to sit down and translate one or two of these editorials in full…

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