DPRK


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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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

The DPRK newspapers are full of stories concerning the celebration of international women’s day yesterday. KCNA has half a dozen reports, on a celebration at the People’s Palace of Culture, calls to continue displaying revolutionary mettle, the history of Juche-oriented women’s movement in a socialist country, and so on. Rodong Sinmun has an editorial on the theme, while the Pyongyang Times has a fascinating article from which I quote:

A ray of hope flickered for Korean women when President Kim Il Sung started the Korean revolution.

As he embarked on the road of revolution in his early years, he blazed a trail for a Juche-oriented women’s movement, regarding them as a powerful force that turns one of the two wheels of the revolution.

He specified the empowerment of women in the 10-point Programme of the Association for the Restoration of the Fatherland during the anti-Japanese revolutionary struggle, and made sure that a women’s union was formed prior to other social organizations and proclaimed the Law on Sex Equality after Korea’s liberation, thereby enabling women to participate in social and political life and economic and cultural life on an equal footing with men.

Thanks to the President’s benevolent affection and trust, Korean women could perform admirable feats for the Party, revolution and country at every period and stage of the revolution, including the periods of a new country building, the Fatherland Liberation War, postwar reconstruction and great Chollima upswing.

Today they lead an independent and creative life as masters and players of the country in accomplishing the revolutionary cause of Juche under the warm care of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.

They take a large proportion of deputies to the people’s assemblies at all levels and render distinguished services to the building of a powerful socialist nation.

As they find their happiness in the country’s prosperity they give full play to their patriotic devotion, creativity and talents in all fields including national defence and building of a socialist economic giant. Their heroic exploits are incorporated in groundbreaking scientific and technological hits, achievements in light industry, agriculture and other economic sectors, sports and art and literature as well as lots of monumental structures including the Paektusan Hero Youth Power Station and large-scale animal husbandry base in the Sepho area.

In the unprecedentedly arduous campaign to defend socialism and the present struggle to build a socialist power, Korean women have played their part in building happy families and bringing up their children to be pillars of the country with warm love and infinite devotion, smiling all hardships away, and volunteered to become spouses of disabled soldiers, adopt orphans and support childless old people.

As there are commendable women emitting fragrance all across this land, Korean socialism is firm and steady and the cause of building a powerful socialist country advances with great vitality.

To which may be added sections from other articles:

All women in the country enjoy respect and love as a powerful force pushing one of the two wheels of the revolutionary chariot and flowers of the country and the times for their important role in various sectors of social life.

Among them are servicepersons who defend the country with an ardent patriotism, officers’ wives who share the same destiny with their husbands in safeguarding the country, deputies to the state power organs, party officials, managers, scientists, actresses and innovators who dedicate their all to the prosperity of the country.

And many laws and social policies like the law on protection of women’s rights and socialist labor law have been enacted to guarantee their rights in the DPRK.

The Korean women’s movement has taken only the road of victory as a revolutionary and militant movement generation after generation and prided itself on being an example of the movement of world progressive women.

Let all women powerfully demonstrate the revolutionary mettle of the Korean women in the all-people general offensive towards the grand festival in September, single-heartedly united around the Party.

 

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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As CP pointed out to me today, international sport has taken the place of religion when it comes to dealing with international political issues. How so? In the middle of the nineteenth century in Prussia, the only language in which one could engage in political issues was religion, or more specifically theology. This was due to the heavy censorship over political debate in Prussia, so all of the issues were expressed in and through religion. The youthful Marx and Engels were no exception.

In an analogous fashion, international sport – for better or worse – seems to have taken on that role. For example, Russian athletes cannot be banned for overtly political reasons, so the excuse of ‘doping’ is used. And of course, the complex issues of Korean unification can be broached much more readily through the avenue of the Winter Olympics than other forms. Obviously, these images are as much social and political as they are focused on sport, but they take place in the context and language of sport.

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The combined Korea team, under the ‘Korea is One’ flag, which raised by far the loudest applause.

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So far, this sort of thing has happened before, albeit not at such an important juncture. But the arrival of Kim Yo Jong is another story. She is the younger sister of Kim Jong Un and a serious politician in her own right.

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The handshake between her and Moon Jae-in, president of the south, as the united Korea team came out during the opening ceremony was powerful in its symbolism.

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Alongside Kim Yo Jong is the president of the presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong Nam.

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He was received warmly indeed by Moon Jae-in before the games.

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And here is a toast with Moon Jae-in, Kim Yong Nam and the Olympic chair.

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This first part of this video is fascinating, since it speaks volumes about the common ritual of who should sit in the most important seat. Initially, Kim Yong Nam suggests Kim Yo Jong should sit there. But she pauses and insists he should sit there, especially in light of his seniority (he is 90). At last, after back and forth, he takes the seat, as he knows he should – but not before umpteen signals of humility.

 

Last but by no means least, the north has sent no less than 229 members of a cheer squad, replete with instruments.

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Their chant: the simple but powerful ‘We are one’.

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You cannot help thinking that Kim Jong Un and the leadership team are becoming quite masterful at international leadership. Meanwhile, the USA’s representative at Pyeongchang, Mike Pence, was made to look like a frustrated and petulant little boy who could not get his way. He refused to attend the welcoming dinner and did not stand and cheer as the united Korea team came out. Unlike the leaders of the two Koreas:

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Update:

Things move fast in this environment. Kim Yo Jong has by now delivered a written invitation from her bother to Moon Jae-in: a personal meeting between the two of them at the ‘earliest date’ possible.

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Moon is said to have been positive but cautious: ‘Let us make it happen by creating the necessary conditions in the future’.

To add to the picture, the entries by Kim Yo Jong and Kim Yong Nam in the visitors book at the south’s presidential office express positive hopes:

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While Kim Yong Nam (left) wrote of the Korean people’s desire to be reunited, Kim Yo Jong (right) wrote: ‘I expect Pyongyang and Seoul to get closer in the hearts of our (Korean) people and the future of unification and prosperity will be advanced’.

Given that the north’s policy has always been consistent regarding reunification, but that the south’s approach has lurched back and forth depending on political circumstances, the ball is clearly in Moon’s court. Will he make the most of the opportunity on the 70th anniversary of the separation of the two Koreas so that serious progress is made to reunification – as this DPRK joint conference make clear? Or will he waste the chance? Perhaps a small signal may be found in the rebuttal of Japan’s urging to resume military preparations – the so-called ‘war games’ with the USA and South Korea – for invading the north. After the militant Abe suggested this, the southern Koreans told him to get lost, since he was interfering in Korean sovereignty.

Of course, if the two parts of Korea do reunite, the urgent question is what in the world are US soldiers doing occupying one half of the Korean peninsula.

One of the top items in our next visit to the DPRK is the architecture. Since the USA destroyed nearly all the standing buildings (along with 20 percent of the population) in the Korean War, the country had to be rebuilt. The initial phase was heavily inspired by Stalin baroque from the 1950s, with significant assistance from architects from the DDR (East Germany). As Calvin Chua – a Singapore architecture who has been engaged in the latest phase – puts it: ‘Then we have the modernist era in the 60s and 70s, which was followed by the revival of vernacular Korean architectural elements, like Korean hipped roofs, built with concrete in the 80s’. The latest phase is part of a boom in construction since 2014, especially since the DPRK’s economy has kicked along with its own version of the ‘reform and opening up’. Crucially, architecture concerns not merely individual buildings but the larger issues of spatial reconstruction. A reasonably informative article can be found here. It has collections of stunning images, of which I can give only a sample. They come from different periods, mostly from Pyongyang but also Hamhung in the north.

Finally, the new international airport in Pyongyang:

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