PLA in Pyongyang? Returning Tropes in Sino-North Korean Relations

The North Korean issue has been fairly quiet in the Chinese press in the aftermath of last month’s big Party Congress in Pyongyang, but some new controversy has crossed the wires in the form of a South Korean press allegation (courtesy Dong-A Ilbo) that China is sending a rather large contingent of People’s Liberation Army troops to Pyongyang.  As the Global Times English version puts it:

Senior Chinese strategists Wednesday denied a report that said China may position troops in North Korea.

The strategists also accused conservatives in South Korea of escalating tensions on the Korea Peninsula when bilateral relations between Beijing and Pyongyang were believed to have strengthened after the North introduced the likely successor to Kim Jong-il.

South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper reported Wednesday that China will send 2,000-3,000 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops to Pyongyang in a bid to help modernize the North Korean army by the end of this year at the earliest, quoting an unnamed source in Beijing.

Korean language and customs-training programs are underway for chief Chinese commanders, the report said.

China’s Ministry of National Defense was unavailable for immediate comment, but experts noted that some forces in South Korea are aimed at “creating a tense atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula and provoking hostile sentiments against China and North Korea.”

The report, published on the newspaper’s official website in Korean, said the Chinese troops are likely to be stationed in Sunan District on the outskirts of Pyongyang.

Chinese volunteer soldiers crossed the Yalu River on October 19, 1950, to work alongside the Korean People’s Army in the 1950-1953 Korean War.

What’s further interesting is how the Chinese version of this article (which not incidentally headlines Huanqiu’s website this evening) contrasts, from its citation of DailyNK to the opening quote that South Korean netizens see the possible move of Chinese troops into North Korea as “even more serious than the North Korean nuclear incident.”  There is also a bit of discussion of the geopolitics of how North Korea is important to China’s defense as a buffer against the pressure represented by the U.S.-Japan alliance.  But in the end the whole thing is dismissed as lies contributing to false theories of a North Korean collapse and indicative of the desperation of the anti-communist Lee Myung Bak government.  The chorus of Huanqiu commentors, among other things, advocates going ahead anyway and retaking “Koguryo province /该收复高丽省了“ for China.

A second Huanqiu Shibao article notes that an important delegation of 11 nameless North Koreans is on the way to Beijing, subtly auguring with its language a type of possible collective leadership in Pyongyang, something China would very much like to see.

Related Tropes:

This Huanqiu Shibao/Japanese media speculation on a possible change in personnel at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing in possible preparation for yet another Kim Jong Eun visit.

The entirety of the news page of the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang has been rather active of late, including with the news that Chinese successor-in-waiting Xi Jinping made a stop at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing on October 8 in anticipation of the 65th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party (Chosun Nodong Dang).

– Further speculation on Xi Jinping’s emerging policy outlines toward the DPRK are given in Chinese at the Daily NK.  [English link here.]  This is a significant piece that deepens the rather accurate perceptions that North Korea is an issue for Chinese leaders that needs to be attended to primarily for its ability to explode into crisis, not because monetary (or especially) ideological benefits can be reaped thereby.  Chinese companies are making good money on the frontier, but Xi Jinping seems likely to continue the intensely pragmatic approach toward the DPRK which China has been following since 1992 (the year Beijing recognized the regime in Seoul) which would also allow a North Korean famine to emerge so long as it seemed the famine would not rock the very foundations of the Workers’ Party regime.  One does, after all, have to respect the limits of sovereignty when dealing with Pyongyang.

– Will North Korea “open up” its economy?  As with everything else North Korean, it is a good idea to check and see what is being said about the past of the Kim family in order to predict what the policy for the moment is.  If Mother Kim is talking about self-reliance and keeping shovels in the trunk of one’s jeep, tighten the belt.  What about Hoeyrong, the hometown of Kim Jong Suk?  It seems that the city is now home to a “Cuisine Street” which may promise a bit of market activity in the restaurant sector at least. [Link in English.] Small steps, small steps, and along the border with China, no less.

– Fortunately one can always draw back the gates on history to provide examples for a less careful time, when North Koreans and Chinese mixed freely on the bombed-out soil of the DPRK and in its underground bunkers.  These examples are today to be found in rather shabby (by North Korean standards in particular) photo exhibitions praising Chairman Mao and Sino-North Korean military cooperation at the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang.

Hat tip to Thomas Dondelinger at the indispensable for the PLA story.

1 Comment

  1. There is a lot of nonsense going down here, people. North or South of the DMZ, Koreans loathe and detest Chinese people…..dirty, don’t wash very often, and have smelly socks.

    (Here I must declare. South Koreans are the most physically hygienic people in most places of the world.)

    To my points.

    North Korean-PLA military cooperation will be one way traffic and the PLA will be the mushrooms. China has tried military to military contacts before in the hope of locating an alternative to the Kim family, if the excrement hits the fan, and they were suckered bigtime.

    Re: DPROK futurology. Don’t aim too high. My best. Every DVD player sold over the Yalu into North Korea will include a couple of porn movies.

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