Ambassador Liu Makes a Visit to Rason, North Korea

The Chinese-North Korean relationship is hardly in full comradely bloom, but neither is it in a state of total breakdown and acrimony. Rason, the port/SEZ in the extreme northeast of the DPRK and a relatively short drive from China and its Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, is a good case in point. One month ago, Liu Hongcai, the Chinese Ambassador in Pyongyang, made a trip around … Continue reading Ambassador Liu Makes a Visit to Rason, North Korea

Putting a Price Tag on North Korea’s October 10 Celebrations

I don’t doubt there is an abundance of potential fury in North Korea’s provinces, but it does seem odd that a single parade, fireworks display, and associated banquets and pageantry would eat up an amount equivalent roughly equivalent to 7% of the country’s GDP (source: CIA World Factbook, 2013 GDP est. at 28 billion). While Pyongyang remains the inevitable epicentre of state expenditure and ostentatious display, the … Continue reading Putting a Price Tag on North Korea’s October 10 Celebrations

Trains, Trade, and Corruption: Dandong Data Points

While analysts were surely right to parse the dynamics of the 3 September parade in Beijing, the work of assessing the state of Chinese-North Korean relations needs to go well beyond seating charts, personalities, and speculation about Kim Jong-un. As the main juncture for bilateral trade, the Chinese border city of Dandong should be near the top of any short list of generally verifiable factual indicators of Chinese-North … Continue reading Trains, Trade, and Corruption: Dandong Data Points

Data Points from a Summer of Ambivalence in Chinese-North Korean Relations

As  summer gets underway in earnest, China’s new Ambassador to North Korea is getting to work in Pyongyang and surrounding points. While Chinese academics fulminate at the lack of coordination offered by North Korea to its socialist ally, and PRC state media inexplicably seems to encourage various forms of speculation about Li Jinjun’s having been ‘frozen out’ from contact with North Korean officials, I thought it might be … Continue reading Data Points from a Summer of Ambivalence in Chinese-North Korean Relations

The Interview: A Rare Glimpse into the Alternate Reality of CNN in North Korea

CNN’s Will Ripley was recently summoned to Pyongyang, coinciding nicely with North Korea’s announcement that the country had placed yet another American wanderer in custody for crossing the border illegally. Apart from a short interview with the young sufferer (he has been diagnosed with an extreme condition of “North Korean ennui”), Ripley was given access to a real live North Korean official, who delivered the … Continue reading The Interview: A Rare Glimpse into the Alternate Reality of CNN in North Korea

Bubble at the Summit: Insecurities in Kim Jong-un Itineraries

Is Kim Jong-un staggeringly confident, or do his behaviours and travel itineraries betray personal neuroses and structural fears? The short answer is that it depends on the issue under discussion. Let’s take the economy for starters. Like a shrimp rediscovering its appetite after an awful oil spill, the North Korean economy appears to be improving, or so argue a number of indicators. Several smaller dams around the … Continue reading Bubble at the Summit: Insecurities in Kim Jong-un Itineraries

Three Questions on Dandong and Chinese-North Korean Economic Relations

As the third China-North Korea Trade Fair continues, a few questions (modified from those posed by a stalwart reporter from a northern European news magazine roaming Liaoning province) and tentative answers seem appropriate. Q.: There is a great deal of new construction in Dandong and Chinese real estate companies are clearly trying to attract buyers — including possibly wealthy North Koreans.  I have been going to … Continue reading Three Questions on Dandong and Chinese-North Korean Economic Relations

The Dandong Trade Fair

As the rest of the world gets accustomed to seeing Kim Jong-un walk with a cane, we might do well to figure out what, if anything, is changing about the way that the broader North Korean state engages with the economic powerhouses that engulf its southern and northern peripheries. KEI’s Director of Research recently assessed the outlook for improved inter-Korean economic relations in the aftermath … Continue reading The Dandong Trade Fair

Americans in Pyongyang: Detainees, Prisoners, Hostages, and Pawns

Yesterday, North Korea gave the US media momentary access to three American nationals currently detained in the DPRK. Finding the right terms to capture what function these three unfortunate men are serving at the moment is tricky at the moment. For convenience, let’s just start with nouns: “Detainee” is probably the most neutral designation, though for certain intrepid lawyers even this language has been tainted by post-9/11 practices and the erosion … Continue reading Americans in Pyongyang: Detainees, Prisoners, Hostages, and Pawns

Cambridge on the Tumen: A Transnational Workshop

A small group of scholars gathered in Cambridge on Friday, May 23 for a conference centered on the Tumen River and a critical sub- region of Northeast Asia which has seen less critical attention than the issues surrounding it might indicate it deserves. Funded by the Beyond the Korean War Project  and including participants from the North Asian Borders Network, the workshop brought together a number … Continue reading Cambridge on the Tumen: A Transnational Workshop