Kim Jong Un and Xi Jinping together in Beijing

After noting a distinct change in tone in Chinese assessments of the DPRK only a few days ago, it turns out that Xi Jinping invited Kim Jong Un to Beijing.

As is the custom with such visits, the news appears after the meeting is over. Let me pick up some of the comments in the Xinhua account (although all the major Chinese news outlets are carrying the story).

Xi said Kim’s current visit to China, which came at a special time and was of great significance, fully embodied the great importance that Comrade Chairman and the WPK Central Committee have attached to the relations between the two countries and the two parties.

“We speak highly of this visit,” Xi told Kim.

Kim said Comrade Xi Jinping enjoyed the support of the CPC and the people of the whole country, became the core of the leadership and was re-elected Chinese president and CMC chairman. He said it is his obligation to come to congratulate Xi in person, in line with the DPRK-China friendly tradition.

At present, the Korean Peninsula situation is developing rapidly and many important changes have taken place, Kim said, adding that he felt he should come in time to inform Comrade General Secretary Xi Jinping in person the situation out of comradeship and moral responsibility.

Xi said the China-DPRK traditional friendship, established and cultivated meticulously by the elder generations of leaders of both parties and both countries, was the precious wealth of both sides.

Sharing common ideals and beliefs as well as profound revolutionary friendship, the elder generations of leaders of the two countries trusted and supported each other, and wrote a fine story in the history of international relations, said Xi.

He said several generations of the leaders of China and the DPRK have maintained close exchanges and paid frequent calls on each other like relatives.

The two parties and countries have supported each other and coordinated with each other during long-term practices, making great contributions to the development of the socialist cause.

“Both Comrade Chairman and I have personally experienced and witnessed the development of China-DPRK relationship,” said Xi, adding that both sides have stated repeatedly that traditional China-DPRK friendship should be passed on continuously and developed better.

“This is a strategic choice and the only right choice both sides have made based on history and reality, the international and regional structure and the general situation of China-DPRK ties. This should not and will not change because of any single event at a particular time,” Xi said.

The CPC and the Chinese government highly value China-DPRK friendly cooperative ties, Xi stressed. It is an unswerving principle of the CPC and the Chinese government to maintain, consolidate and develop good relations with the DPRK, he said.

“We are willing to work together with DPRK comrades, remain true to our original aspiration and jointly move forward, to promote long-term healthy and stable development of China-DPRK relations, benefit the two countries and two peoples, and make new contribution to regional peace, stability and development,” Xi said.

Kim said he was greatly encouraged and inspired by General Secretary Xi’s important views on DPRK-China friendship and the development of relations between the two parties and countries.

The DPRK-China friendship, which was founded and nurtured by the elder generations of leaders of both countries, is unshakable, he said. It is a strategic choice of the DPRK to pass on and develop friendship with China under the new situation, and it will remain unchanged under any circumstances.

Kim said his current visit aims to meet Chinese comrades, enhance strategic communication, and deepen traditional friendship, hoping to have opportunities to meet with Comrade General Secretary Xi Jinping often, and keep close contacts through such forms as sending special envoys and personal letters to each other, so as to promote to a new level the guidance of high-level meetings to the relations between the two parties and countries.

The two leaders thoroughly exchanged views on the situation of the world and the Korean Peninsula.

Xi said that positive changes had taken place on the Korean Peninsula since this year, and China appreciates the important efforts made by the DPRK.

On the Korean Peninsula issue, Xi said that China sticks to the goal of denuclearization of the peninsula, safeguarding peace and stability on the peninsula and solving problems through dialogue and consultation.

China calls on all parties to support the improvement of inter-Korean ties, and take concrete efforts to facilitate peace talks, said Xi, noting that China will continue to play constructive role on the issue and work with all parties, including the DPRK, toward the thaw of the situation on the peninsula.

Kim said that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is starting to get better, as the DPRK has taken the initiative to ease tensions and put forward proposals for peace talks.

“It is our consistent stand to be committed to denuclearization on the peninsula, in accordance with the will of late President Kim Il Sung and late General Secretary Kim Jong Il,” he said.

Kim said that the DPRK is determined to transform the inter-Korean ties into a relationship of reconciliation and cooperation and hold summit between the heads of the two sides.

The DPRK is willing to have dialogue with the United States and hold a summit of the two countries, he said.

“The issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula can be resolved, if south Korea and the United States respond to our efforts with goodwill, create an atmosphere of peace and stability while taking progressive and synchronous measures for the realization of peace,” said Kim.

The DPRK hopes to enhance strategic communication with China during the process, jointly safeguard the trend of consultation and dialogue as well as peace and stability on the peninsula, said Kim.

The message to the world could not be more obvious.

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Beijing and Pyongyang: old friends

A fascinating and insightful article in The Global Times, called ‘Nothing should come between China and North Korea‘.

Let me quote a few of the more interesting parts:

North Korea is a respectable country. It is highly independent, which is extremely rare in Northeast Asia. Its economic size is not large, but its industrial system is relatively complete, which is not easily achieved. The development of the North Korean economy and society is also not as gloomy as described by the outside world.

Pyongyang has the right to choose its own political system without interventions from the outside world. The Chinese public should particularly understand this. There are huge differences in political systems worldwide. It is unfair to single out North Korea and attack it.

So how does the friendship between China and the DPRK work?

Beijing and Pyongyang forged their friendship with blood during the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea 1950-53. When China later withdrew its military from North Korea, it also drew back its influence on the country …

China has no ability to manage North Korea. Controlling a neighbouring country runs counter to Beijing’s long-term foreign policy. China and North Korea treat each other as equals and respect one another.

The nature of the Beijing-Pyongyang relationship is utterly different from the Washington-Seoul alliance, which is comprehensively determined by the US and its troops in South Korea.

What about nuclear arms and the Chinese policy of denuclearisation on the whole Korean peninsula?

For China and North Korea, the major tests are how to keep the right balance between their divergences over the nuclear issue, how to maintain friendly ties between Beijing and Pyongyang and how to avoid the influence of South Korean, Japanese or Western media.

The divergence between China and North Korea over the nuclear issue is their only major difference. Other so-called conflicts are speculatively created. South Korea, the US and Japan yearn for overall confrontation between the two and so they have been spreading rumours that seek to drive a wedge between Beijing and Pyongyang.

To conclude:

Maintaining friendly relations between China and North Korea is in line with the interests of both sides.

For China, it is conducive to Beijing’s peripheral strategy and can make more room for its maneuvering in Northeast Asian affairs.

For North Korea, it would be difficult and dangerous to cope with Seoul, Washington and Tokyo all alone. China’s support can defuse many risks.

It is hoped that the Communist Party of China and the Workers’ Party of Korea can remain the bedrock of relations between the two countries, making sure that no opportunist can find a market or opportunity to harm Beijing-Pyongyang ties.

I hardly need to point out the implications of this statement should anyone contemplate interfering with the DPRK.

 

 

 

 

The so-called ‘hermit kingdom’

One of the standard phrases used when speaking of the DPRK (North Korea) is ‘hermit kingdom’. It is meant to portray a country entirely closed off from the world. You can neither enter nor leave, so the assumption goes, and no country or individual in their right mind would want to engage with the DPRK.

I am not quite sure of the source of this idea. To be sure, hostile countries find it impossible to spy on the DPRK, which is not a bad thing. But as for getting in and out of the country, this is quite easy to do. Any number of tour operators can get you there, and you can go to study, teach for a while, and so on.

International relations? Let’s take a sample of some of the latest activities:

In a report on congratulations to Xi Jinping’s election for a second term as president of China, who should be first on the list? Kim Jong Un. Others of course appear, all of them specifically important Asian partners – including Shinzo Abe from Japan.

The Pyongyang Times reports from Mongolia one of the many events – a photo exhibition – celebrating 70 years of diplomatic relations between Mongolia and the DPRK.

Then there is the ongoing relationship with Nepal, as also with Cuba, Syria, Iran, Mozambique, Nigeria, India, Egypt, Cambodia, Bulgaria, The Netherlands, Singapore, New Zealand  … Russia particularly has regular interaction with the DPRK, with a Russian delegation recently visiting. Of course, we find regular participation in international sporting events, such as football, wrestling, acrobatics and the Olympics.

But the connections with Sweden are perhaps the closest for any country that counts itself as part of Western Europe and the North Atlantic. Diplomatic relations began in 1973, with embassies opened in 1975. They have been close ever since, with the DPRK foreign minister heading for Sweden a couple of days ago to ‘exchange views on bilateral relations and issues of mutual concern’, as Rodong Sinmun puts it.

A ‘hermit kingdom’? Hardly.

 

Tibet pulling its weight as part of China

In his book on China’s ethnic minorities, Colin Mackerras writes in regard to Tibet: ‘However, what strikes me most forcefully about the period since 1980 or so is not how much the Chinese have harmed Tibetan culture, but how much they have allowed, even encouraged it to revive; not how weak it is, but how strong’. But cultural realities can never be separated from economic questions, especially in light of the Chinese Marxist emphasis on the human right to economic wellbeing.

What do Tibetans themselves have to say about all this. An insight is provided by Tibetan delegates as the two sessions of parliament this year in Beijing. As the Global Times reports:

Kelsang Drolkar, a deputy of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and a village Communist Party chief in Chengguan district of Lhasa, told the Global Times on Monday that she was glad to see Tibet has not become a forgotten area when the country is moving forward to a moderately prosperous society.

National policies, as well as support from other regions across China, have helped the region achieve tremendous changes in the medical, economic and education sectors, and made local people “live a happier and safer life,” she said.

Tibet registered 10 percent GDP growth year-on-year last year, marking the 25th straight year of double-digit growth. Its GDP reached 131.06 billion yuan ($20.5 billion) in 2017.

In 2018, Tibet set a target to achieve GDP growth of about 10 percent, with an 18 percent increase in fixed-asset investment as well as increases of more than 10 percent and 13 percent for urban and rural per capita disposable incomes respectively, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

In 2013, the average yearly income in her village was 10,540 yuan per capita. That number almost doubled last year to 19,550 yuan, Drolkar said.

The Chengguan district has implemented a 15-year compulsory education system from kindergarten to high school. Last year, 93 students from the district were admitted by universities across China, with government covering most of their tuition, Drolkar said.

Bilingual education in schools also contributes to ethnic unity in the region, as learning Putonghua helps Tibetan people understand more about the country and its policies, she said.

Other NPC deputies from Tibet praised past legislative work on national security.

“Laws on national security, counter-espionage, anti-terrorism, activities of overseas NGOs, cybersecurity and national intelligence have provided significant legal support to safeguard national security and the country’s core interests,” Sodar, an NPC deputy and head of Tibet’s higher people’s court, said at a Monday group discussion during the ongoing session of the NPC.

The legislation also provided powerful legal support to combat separatists, terrorists and the Dalai Lama clique, said Sodar.

Tibet had a prospering economy in 2017, with about 44,000 new market entities established in the region, according to local authorities.

The figure brought the total number of registered businesses in the region to 227,000, a year-on-year growth of 19.1 percent, according to Xinhua.

Kim Jong Un, statesman

This has already gone beyond what might have been expected: another step towards Korean reunification. As multiple sources report in the two Koreas, a high level delegation from the south has recently concluded a two-day visit to the north. This is the third such event in the last couple of months. They met with Kim Jong Un and other leading officials and put everything on the table.

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As KCNA reports: (also here):

Shaking hands of the special envoy and his party one by one, respected Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un warmly welcomed them to Pyongyang.

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Jong Ui Yong courteously conveyed a personal letter of President Moon Jae In to the Supreme Leader.

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The members of the special envoy delegation presented gratitude to the Supreme Leader for having dispatched high-level delegations and various large-scale delegations with the 23rd Winter Olympics as a momentum to ensure its successful holding.

Expressing thanks for this, Kim Jong Un said it is natural to share the joy over an auspicious event of fellow countrymen of the same blood and help them. The recent Winter Olympics served as a very important occasion in displaying the stamina and prestige of our nation and providing a good atmosphere of reconciliation, unity and dialogue between the north and the south, he added.

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Then he had an openhearted talk with the south side’s special envoy delegation over the matters arising in actively improving the north-south relations and ensuring peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

He repeatedly clarified that it is our consistent and principled stand and his fixed will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world.

After being told about President Moon Jae In’s intention for a summit by the special envoy of the south side, the Supreme Leader exchanged views and reached a satisfactory agreement.

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He gave an important instruction to the relevant field to rapidly take practical steps for it.

He also had an exchange of in-depth views on the issues for easing the acute military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and activating the versatile dialogue, contact, cooperation and exchange between the north and the south.

The talk proceeded in a compatriotic and sincere atmosphere.

The dinner afterwards was also celebrated in a ‘warm atmosphere overflowing with compatriotic feelings’.

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What, exactly, is a ‘satisfactory agreement’? Moon Jae-in’s office clarified, after the southern delegation returned:

  1. A summit next month between Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in, to be preceded by discussions over a ‘hotline’: ‘The South and the North have agreed to set up a hotline between their leaders to allow close consultations and a reduction of military tension, while also agreeing to hold the first phone conversation before the third South-North summit’.
  2. The topics: denuclearisation, believe it or not, which also entails that ‘military threats against North Korea removed’ and the safety and security of the state ‘be guaranteed’.
  3. A promise from Kim Jong Un ‘not to use not only nuclear weapons but also conventional weapons against the South’.

Obviously, these developments were unexpected only a few months ago. But Moon Jae-in has perhaps an even more delicate diplomatic task, given the fact that 20-30,000 US forces occupy the south. So, on the one hand he stresses the need for US-DPRK talks (to which the north has agreed) and the need to keep ‘sanctions’ in place with the aim of full denuclearisation. But as he does so, he also observes:

The dismantlement of the (North’s) nuclear program is the end goal. But given that the immediate dismantlement of it may be difficult, I think we can go through a certain road map before reaching that dismantlement stage.

In other words, we’ll get on with talks aiming at reunification and peace on the Korean peninsula even if the aims of others are a long way off. Or, as the Unification Minster of the south put it, the ‘government will utilize the current momentum to develop inter-Korean ties in a stable manner and bring peace to the Korean Peninsula’.

Meanwhile, what is the USA doing as all this happens? It is largely reduced to flapping at the sidelines, with Trump employing the great diplomatic tool of twitter as a sign of sheer uselessness. But these developments have a history, apart from the consistent north Korean policy of reunification, without outside interference, peacefully and through a federal system. Already at the ASEAN summit last year, the USA was sidelined. Asian countries realised that the USA is in serious decline and no longer a major player, so they began finding ways to solve their own problems. Clearly, Kim Jong Un has seen the opportunity to act on long-standing policy in the north – as his new year statement made clear. But so also has Moon Jae-in, once the bluster from the US passed. It seems as though the Koreans are genuinely trying to deal with their own problems.

Now, all of this may not lead to anything, but I do find that I get more optimistic as I get older. So it seems that Kim Jong Un may well be a greater statesman than many might have expected.

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China’s multi-party system: ‘a great contribution to political civilisation’

The all-important ‘two sessions’ (lianghui) are underway in Beijing. These are the National People’s Congress (NPC), the highest law-making body in China, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which provides advice and recommendations to the NPC. You can watch a brief video about the two sessions of 2018 here. These two sessions are perhaps even more important this year after the landmark 19th congress of the CPC in November of 2016.

During the first session of the CPPCC, Xi Jinping and others met with representatives from other political parties, those without party affiliation and returned overseas Chinese. Among other items, Xi stressed the following (quoting from Xinhua News – see also a later piece in the People’s Daily):

President Xi Jinping Sunday called the system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) “a great contribution to political civilization of humanity.”

It is “a new type of party system growing from China’s soil,” said Xi …

Xi said the system is new because it combines Marxist political party theories with China’s reality, and truly, extensively and in the long term represents fundamental interests of all people and all ethnic groups and fulfills their aspiration, avoiding the defects of the old-fashioned party system which represents only a selective few or the vested interest.

The Chinese system is new, Xi said, because it unites all political parties and people without party affiliation toward a common goal, effectively preventing the flaws of the absence of oversight in one-party rule, or power rotation and nasty competition among multiple political parties.

The Chinese system is new, Xi said, also because it pools ideas and suggestions through institutional, procedural, and standardized arrangements and develops a scientific and democratic decision making mechanism.

It steers away from another weakness of the old-fashioned party system, in which decision making and governance, confined by interests of different political parties, classes, regions and groups, tears the society apart, he said.

Fitting China’s reality and fine traditional culture, it is “a great contribution to political civilization of humanity,” he said.

Xi said upholding the CPC leadership was not meant to do away with democracy.

Instead, it aims to create a form of democracy that is broader and more effective, he said.

The CPC-led system of multiparty cooperation and political consultation stresses both the CPC leadership and socialist democracy which features political consultation, participation in the deliberation of state affairs, and democratic supervision, he said.