Monday, August 30, 2010

The Calibre of South Korean Politicians

This article is one that didn't make it onto The Daily NK English page. As an example of extraordinary, willful xenophobia and undisguised nationalism delivered with no apparent sense of irony, it is splendid. As an example of the thinking of a national lawmaker in the 21st Century, it is quite disturbing.

(For those with the chops, check out the Korean version here)

Talking about Kim Jong Il’s latest visit to China, a former Democratic Party lawmaker, Jang Sung Min told a radio program this morning, “A lot of people criticize it for being to beg for the investiture of the crown prince or for food.”

Speaking on a Peace Broadcasting Company show, Jang went on, “There are some in Seoul diplomatic circles who criticize the fact that North Korea, which claims to be an independent state, would undertake dependency and tribute diplomacy, as the Chosun Dynasty did in the 17th and 18th centuries. The North is a new version of a vassal state, which has thrown away its national self-respect.”

He went on, “Some also say that in terms of his visits to the historical sites of the anti-Japanese colonial movement, Kim Jong Il is misusing our ancestors’ noble spirit for national liberation to establish the hereditary dynasty of the Kim family.”

“It is a national comedy and a hilarious move by the Kim Jong Il royal family, to lead national diplomacy in the exact opposite direction to Juche or the independence that they claim.”

“People in Seoul diplomatic circles think that the Juche ideology based on North Korean self-reliance or independence has already been demolished if his visit is related to the Kim Jong Eun succession issue and food aid,” he concluded.

(Translation by Kwon, E.K.)

What I dislike is that this man, a former lawmaker, is basically advocating for the Juche ideology in its "national independence and self-reliance" format.

By stating that Kim Jong Il should not be visiting the Chinese in this way, he is saying a lot about the South Korean relationship with the U.S, too, and furthermore betraying his considerable, ingrained xenophobic nationalism.

The fact is that national self-respect has nothing to do with independence, or an absence of foreigners on one's soil per se. That is the stuff of Kim Jong Il and Osama Bin Laden, and is reprehensible.

Instead, national self-respect has everything to do with a harmonious, adult presence in the international arena. That doesn't just mean hosting the Olympics or World Cup or G20 meeting, it means being aware of obligations and meeting those which it is possible, or ethically desirable, to meet.

North Korea has indeed thrown away its national self-respect; on this most people to the right of Han Sang Ryeol are happy to agree. But it did that when it sacrificed the wellbeing of its people for the chance to possess nuclear weapons, when it started using brinkmanship and threats as a means of extracting aid from the international community.

Whenever that was, it was not when Kim Jong Il snuck out of Pyongyang in the dead of night to go and visit a middle school in the Chinese countryside.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chinese Media, Chinese Stance.

Kremlinology was and still is a precise set of analytical skills. Kumsusanology is the same. And China watching is very similar. A lot of it revolves around careful reading between the lines of official pronouncements and the state-run media.

Sometimes, of course, the reading doesn’t even need to be all that careful. Such is the case with recent pieces from the two major outward-looking organs of the Communist Party of China, “The People’s Daily” and “Global Times”, on North Korea and the regional power balance.

Take a look at these quotes;

August 20th, 2010

“South Korea needs to keep clear-minded that its security has to be built on goodwill with its neighbors, and the strategic balance of the region should be unchanged.

A stronger South Korea-US alliance might jeopardize the trust of Seoul with its neighbors, and lead to more insecurity.

The hawkish trend of the Lee Myung Bak administration has also aroused public opinion that pressed it to take more hard-line actions. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is stuck in a vicious cycle.

Seoul has to think clearly if it wants to break the vicious cycle. Its security will come from a stable Northeast Asia.”

August 26th, 2010

“To put it simply, the US has never changed its basic policy toward North Korea, which is to ensue a regime change.

Although Washington is not openly talking about the policy, its goal remains to overthrow the current North Korean government.

The US-South Korean joint military exercises are a move to accelerate this momentum. It is a strategy to push and prepare for change, and take the initiative if the regime change really happens.

The controversial sinking of the South Korean battleship, in retrospect, is more like a convenient excuse for the US to conduct a long-planned drill that envisions the occupation of the North, rather than a single reaction toward an emergency.

The Korean Peninsula is too important to ignore in the realm of global geopolitics. U.S. control of the peninsula will pose a realistic threat to China and Russia.

North Korean leadership is expected to change hands soon. The world is watching the change closely, as North Korea is still not back to the Six-Party Talks that aim to persuade it to drop its nuclear weapon program.

A smooth transition of power in the North is vital for the stability of Northeast Asia.

China needs to clearly realize this, and try to play an active role in preserving the peace on the Korean Peninsula, as well as look after its own interests.”

These are unattributed editorials. They are, to all intents and purposes, the Chinese leadership's current stance. And they make the position very clear.

First, the U.S. and South Korea should avoid trying to enhance their power in the region. Lee Myung Bak is overstepping the mark with his hawkishness.

Second, the Chinese are prepared to accept the Kim Jong Eun transition of power if it means that stability is ensured.

Finally, the U.S. should not try/stop trying to topple the regime in Pyongyang. To say the Chinese want Kim Jong Eun there is an almighty overstatement, but they don’t want the alternative, especially instability. The Chinese know that a transition period is a time of weakness in a dictatorship, and they don't want the U.S. to try and incite rebellion in the people at such a time.

To wit, they feel that the U.S.-South Korean military exercises being conducted this year are partially aimed at fomenting just that unrest in the North Korean military establishment.

For sure, there are warnings in there for Pyongyang too, not least among them; if we don’t see stability coming out of the succession, then we might just change our minds. And there are positive messages, notably; we won't go out of our way to stop your hereditary succession.

But what this shows above all is how the Chinese go about giving gentle guidance to their international competitors.

All we, the aforementioned competitors, have to do is read it. When the government's opinion is also the newspaper's opinion, isn't it so much simpler?!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Marketization Getting Back on the Road

New video of bustling and uninterrupted trading in a border market has been obtained by a South Korean daily newspaper, suggesting that the fight against market activity has been won, for the time being at least, by market traders and the forces of capitalism.

As the piece in the Chosun Ilbo points out, the new video, taken this month in Shinuiju, stands in stark contrast to another video obtained by the same paper in April. In the previous video, empty stalls and limited numbers of customers were the most obvious features of a market in Onsung.

Markets in the country were practically deserted until May, but the situation began to change in June. Now business is booming. Sources say the authorities have virtually stopped trying to control the markets.

South Korean products are also freely available in the market, the paper’s sources add. They are not advertised, but everyone knows how to get them and many are prepared to pay a premium for a desirable item.

Cuckoo rice cookers, Samsung Anycall mobile phones and LG TV sets are very popular.

We display Chinese cosmetics but tell customers we also have South Korean ones. When a customer wants South Korean cosmetics, we take them out from under the table and sell them in the backroom.

Which is exactly what I want to hear. It shows that the currency redenomination has had no effect, and while the long term effects of one bustling market in Shinuiju are hard to predict, it is certainly a good sign of a lack of state control over the economic sphere.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Well That's Nice to Hear

Alright, so a piece on Open Radio for North Korea (ORNK) has finally announced that North Korean national football team coach Kim Jong Hun has, to mine and everyone else's great relief, not been sent to a construction site or received any other deplorable punishment for his team's poor showing in South Africa, and is, on the contrary, still in charge.

As Michael Madden put it here, "sometimes a criticism session is just a criticism session."

As per the ORNK piece, translation my own, "North Korea national football team coach Kim Jong Hun is in the middle of training the team at the Escort Bureau-managed Lee Myung Su Sports Complex Football Stadium."

"Kim took personal responsibility for the World Cup result, and offered to resign, but he got one more chance."

Kudos to this piece, "NK’s National Soccer Team Punished for Defeat in South Africa?", which I cannot link but promise was also carried by Open Radio. It got to the bottom of things early doors, and revealed a depth of knowledge clearly absent from the mainstream "quality" dailies (not a charge I am levelling at The Sun, by the by, a paper which can be relied upon to plumb the depths of shoddy journalism on literally any given day);

But the source said, the government will probably not take extreme measures. "Many people believe Kim Jong Il is crazy for soccer, but he's not. He likes soccer because it makes money for him. He likes other entertainment more," said the source.

The soccer team earned at least 1,600 million dollars (18 billion won) by receiving a dividend (at least 900 million dollars), club compensation for the players ($960,000), and the donation from Legea ($490,000).

Since the national soccer team brought a lot of foreign currency into North Korea, the players should be safe, the source said.

This, friends, is how modern North Korea works. What we are left with is another case to file under too few sources, too much gullibility and too great a desire to sell newspapers, it seems.