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Tremors and Premonitions from the Sino-Korean Borderlands

On September 30, 2011, celebrated defense intellectual Zhang Zhaozhong [ 张召忠 ] visited the small but important and growing Sino-North Korean border city of Dandong, giving a talk about China’s national defense.  Zhang, described by the trustworthy JustRecently blog as a bit of a hard-liner prone to suspicion against US-Japan-South Korea military alliance, got a good look at China’s frontier defenses, such as they are, on that section of the border with North Korea. The news item about the professor’s visit was rather brief, but it does indicate Dandong’s growing importance in the Chinese security landscape, something which I wrote about back in February 2011 when border forces there were beefing up.  Dandong’s military committee heads spent a few days bucking up their ideological bona fides last month in Tibet in yet another example of cadre in frontier zones learning from one another about how to repress popular revolts and intimidate (or otherwise seduce, we can hope) neighbor states.

Around the same time, Dandong was reshuffling its high-tech bureaucracy to bring more talent to the city in an effort through an organization called “Friends of the Yalu River.”  The Xinchengqu project is rather immense, and it is largely about high-tech machinery.  Borrowing selectively from the large light- and high-tech industry hub in Shenyang, Dandong seems poised in a few years to flood (if you will forgive the sloppy and contextually inappropriate metaphor) North Korea with microchips and intricate electronic devices.

I get the feeling that the CCP is a little miffed at North Korea at present, though precisely why is hard to say.  The opening of the DPRK to Russia was probably a bit alarming  (if predictable from the North Korean leader once known as Yura), and there may be other reasons, but my money is on the obscure, in Pyongyang:

After lavishing unprecedentedly sycophantic praises for China’s October 1 National Day, KCNA, the North Korean news agency, comes out and asserts that Korean civilization, with its epicenter in Pyongyang, is older than Chinese.

Here, for South Korean readers for whom this material is verboten, is the full dispatch:

Tangun, Founder of Ancient Korea

Pyongyang, October 6 (KCNA) — An event took place before King Tangun’s mausoleum on Monday to commemorate the Foundation Day of Korea.

The memorial service for Tangun, ancestral father of the Korean nation and founder of Ancient Korea, the first state in the East, takes place annually before the mausoleum.

Tangun had been known as a myth but he was confirmed as a real human being when his remains were discovered in Kangdong County, Pyongyang, in Juche 82 (1993).

He was born in Pyongyang 5011 (±267) years ago as of 1993.

Succeeding to his father as patriarch, Tangun gradually revamped the primitive structure into a ruling tool for controlling confrontation among classes and tribes. He then founded Ancient Korea in the area with Pyongyang as the centre in the early 30th century B.C.

Ancient Korea became a strong country after conquering small neighboring countries and expanding its territory.

Under the rule of Tangun, the Korean nation put an end to the primitive ages and entered the age of statehood and civilization, developing into a homogeneous nation.

This goes to prove that Ancient Korea was founded in the almost same period with ancient states in the Nile River basin and Mesopotamian region, known as birthplaces of human civilization, and earlier than those in the Indus River basin and Hwang Ho basin.

Tangun was confirmed as the ancestral father of the 5 000-year-old Korean nation under the wise guidance of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.

If you think this kind of assertion doesn’t rankle Chinese scholars and leaders, spend an afternoon with me sometime soon in the PRC Foreign Ministry Archive, and I will show you how, during a very friendly 1962 visit by Liu Shaoqi to Pyongyang, an obscure North Korean journal threw the Chinese into a minor fit by asserting that Korea had never submitted to the Mongols (in other words, had thrown off for a period of a couple hundred years the Chinese tributary system).

Calling one’s country the oldest brother in East Asia is a particular right that China likes very much to reserve for itself.

On the other side of the ledger, Chinese regime-media approved bloggers posted a bunch of photos of life in the North Korean countryside and concluded that Chinese poverty cannot even begin to compare of that in the DPRK, once again rendering North Korea into an entertaining and momentary spectacle that allows good Chinese to recall how much better their own lives have become since, say, 1976.

Lower-level functionaries celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 in Pyongyang last month, marking the emergence of a No. 2 figure in the PRC embassy there named Guan Huabing [关华兵], pictured here with North Korean colleagues in the DPRK-China Friendship Association.

Guan Huabing in Pyongyang, 30 Sept. 2011, image courtesy Chinese Embassy in DPRK

At least 80 Chinese students and language teachers are living in Pyongyang, working and learning at institutes like Kim Chaek University of Technology.  When they party at the Embassy and try out their basketball moves in a 3-on-3 tournament (damn you, David Stern!) it doesn’t appear that they are allowed to bring North Korean friends along.

More importantly, it appears that the visit of Prime Minister Choi to China and Nanjing appears not to have yielded any kind of breakthrough or consolidation of ideals and projects previously agreed to.  And Choi brought a rather large delegation with him, certainly the largest I have seen in recent times. In a minor sign that all is not necessarily going smoothly, Wen Jiabao opened his remarks at that meeting with a nod to “knotty areas (错综复杂的地区)” which might be taken as a nod to island zones or the local environment.