Media Blackout in Beijing: Reading the Empty Spaces during the Kim Jong-un Visit

Among the dozens of subplots feeding into and out of the curious-but-necessary welcome by Xi Jinping of Kim Jong-un this week is the question of information access and what it means or doesn’t mean about the robustness of the overall Chinese-North Korean relationship.

I put together a few preliminary thoughts on this for an outlet based in Seoul, and link and some shorter excerpts of which follow:

When information is scarce and stakes are high, even responsible stakeholders can start to act like fugitives. Chinese officials burned plenty of energy these past few days dodging foreign reporters who were trying to establish answers to the most basic questions, which have been answered in part with the announcement that negotiations were indeed taking place over core issues in the bilateral relationship between the PRC and North Korea.

So how can we get past the gaps in information, the misinformation, and the inevitable Trump-focused treatments of the summit between Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-un? One way of doing so is to focus on the possible agenda for talks, and to do so by looking at issues at hand which go beyond the more obvious triggers for this meeting.  

[…] Unlike a prospective US-North Korean summit, Chinese-North Korean bilateral summits have a long history and plenty of protocol which is expected. The use of the train, the welcome of the North Korean leader at the train platform, is all part of this going back to Kim Il Sung’s trips to Beijing in 1950, as are some of the pro forma events with both leaders and probably the musical performance which they enjoyed, although the details are still coming in about that.

Even the ban on reporting during the visit in 2018 is not necessary so new; I recall finding one drawing from the Liu Shaoqi visit to Pyongyang in the Chinese Foreign Ministry archives for 1962 which showed the very low status of journalists as a group of scribes needing only a minimum of access and who were tacked on as afterthought in the grander scheme of Party-Party relations.


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