Questions on the Sino-North Korea Front

As 2011 rumbles on, I hope that our collective enterprise can, at the very least, make some headway on the following questions:

South Korea

Why did I not know about the Wall Street Journal’s “Korea Real Time” blog until today?  (Thank you Joshua Stanton!)

Is China engaging in what Chairman Mao (in his famous 1972 comment to Richard Nixon) called a strategy of “empty cannon blasts” of propaganda at South Korea whose main purpose is to cover up a substantial shift into the ROK camp as regards Korean unification?

What role might the Chosunjok/migrant laborers from Yanbian play in preparing South Korea for a more unified Northeast Asia?  Is a true transnational community set to erupt up out of the historical ashes of Northeast Asia?  (Why not have hope?  Even Dresden was rebuilt…)

To what extent does Chinese soft power defuse South Korean doubts about the PRC’s intentions in North Korea, if at all?

Or, are we in for another year where Koguryo meets doubts on the DMZ meets bad memories of human wave tactics on the MLR meets apprehension over Chinese economic might meets jealousy over North Korea handing out plum contracts for development on the Northern border to the Big Northern Neighbor meets Chinese netizens saying not nice things about pop star “Rain”?

North Korea

To what extent is the refoulement of North Korean refugees merely a local matter, handled by provincial bodies?  What do we really know about the coordination between Beijing and Pyongyang on this issue?

Why do organizations like Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) continue to assert that there are 300,000 North Korean refugees presently in China when most estimate about 1/10 that amount?

Why doesn’t anyone on One Free Korea blast B.R. Myers for his assertions that most North Korean refugees are in fact loyal subjects of Kim Jong Il and don’t want to leave the state for good?  Or, attack Myers’ assertion that a key figment in the propaganda war — the famous anti-Kim Jong Il poster festooned with graffitti under a bridge in the DPRK — was, in its totality, a stunt by one man to make money, not indicative of a major uprising in North Korea?

How much aid is North Korea going to take from France when France sets up a Liason Office for Cultural Exchange in Pyongyang as a first step to normalizing relations, leaving Estonia as the only European country not to have relations with North Korea?

When am I, or someone equally qualified, going to translate the relevant parts of Im Dienst des Diktators, the smashing memoir of North Korea’s long-time diplomat and arms-and-spy-equipment-and-luxury-goods purchaser in Vienna?  It is a truly fantastic text!

Which of the best new books about North Korea in the French language be translated into English?  Aquariums of Pyongyang languished for several years before the Anglophones got a hold of it, and thus, George W. Bush.


When will I find more substantive fare analyzing the North Korean “Sea of Blood” ensemble tour in China this past winter?  What did the critics say?  And where the hell did this amazing database page come from?

How many of the big and splashy construction and island-leasing contracts announced for North Korea-China cooperation in 2010 will actually be acted upon in 2011?  There is a pattern here, people!  (See, Sinuiju Special Economic Zone, circa 2003, then go stand on the edge of the Yalu River.  It didn’t happen, and it’s not just because Yang Bin is a megalomaniac.)

Will we get any verifiable reports from the city of Changbai? or the town of Linjiang?  or more forgeries from the Baishan Public Security Bureau?  What about Tumen?  In other words, get ready for more incredibly sketchy accounts of North Korean refugees being gunned down at the border, and even sketchier assertions that this was all ordered by Kim Jong Un.  The information war is total!

Will tens of Chinese companies actually invest in the Rason industrial zone?  Will Western/South Korean/Japanese media actually read the Chinese press on these issues when the Chinese do original reporting, even though it’s done with the ol’ “Xinhua Goggles” on?

Will the North Korean transportation infrastructure get upgraded in the very least?  Now that China’s train system has officially turned the Americans upside down and is competing for speed with the French, North Korea becomes a serious obstacle for the longed-for train from Pusan to Berlin, built with Chinese funds and technology.  There is a closeted Sergei Witte figure somewhere in the CCP for whom the DPRK makes him gnash his teeth over rail gague alone!

Everyone run for the train!

Might have to crawl in to find out...Mobile book warfare in Chengdu; photo Adam Cathcart


  1. BR Myers: Because when it comes down to it, it is estimated that there are only about 100,000 defectors, and that nearly all of them come from the highly disaffected, seriously affected by the famine, non-populous northern reaches?

    The press blows these lucky(?) 100,000 of all proportion (sound familiar?!?), but the fact that we hear little from any other area of the country leaves BR Myers free to get lost in his theory, which does indeed appear to be flawed, at least in the context of the last ten years.

    Or is it the fact that the 100,000 statistic proves BR right? And does loyalty derived through fear differ by a relevant degree from loyalty derived from, well, loyalty?

    Either way, it should be noted that opinion on BR among South Koreans, at least where it exists, is decidely mixed. But of course, they also don’t read One Free Korea (BTW: why must a reader of said blog carry the water on this one, is there a red phone on Joshua Stanton’s desk leading direct to Dongseo University?!!!)

    1. Chris, your carrying of water in the interests of factual and thematic clarity is much appreciated by me and my staff at Sinologistical Violoncellist, all of whom are also lacking red phones to Dr. Myers at Dongseo as well.

      On a related question, does Daily NK have a regular person in Changbai, directly across from Hyesan? There is certainly enough news coming out of Hyesan (which as you probably know is mostly visible from Changbai) to merit such. It seems like most of the Daily NK stories I see have sources from inside Hyesan who then call a person in Changchun, which is quite a distance away. Just wondering if you could illuminate that a bit, if not, feel free to ignore.

      Really, it would be nice if Chosun Ilbo, etc., could have a reporter stationed in Changbai, but not sure our friends in the local CCP would like that very much.

      On the stats question, there is the cumulative number that makes sense, that can be quantified partially via statistics in ROK….Thanks again!

  2. Rail gauge isn’t a problem, since China and both Koreas all use standard gauge. The main technical obstacle for the “longed-for train from Pusan to Berlin” would be broad gauge in the former Soviet Union sitting in between the standard gauge networks in China and Europe. There have been plans for a standard gauge freight line from China to Iran through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to solve that problem.

    There’s a professor at the Chinese Academy of Engineering called Wang Mengshu who dreams of building a transcontinental high speed rail network across Asia and Europe. On a more practical level, the NK policy wonks in the Chinese government would no doubt like to get the extremely decreprid North Korean rail network into some sort of decent shape if only to bring out all the minerals that China is gobbling up.

    1. Gag, thanks for the comprehensive links and the solid comment. I recall there being some hubbub this past fall in China about planned links (high speed) to 17 countries, but I don’t think DPRK was included in that!

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