Sunday, January 16, 2011

Chinese Troops Watching Rasun Ramp Up

According to this Chosun Ilbo report, North Korea has decided to allow the Chinese military to station an unknown number of troops within Rasun Special City, the long-standing but hitherto unsuccessful development area in the far northeast of the country.

Quoting a source inside President Lee's office, thus lending the information a degree of credibility that my slating of the Saturday Chosun Ilbo supplement not a great deal further down this very page would otherwise have suggested didn't exist, believes that just such a move has been on the cards for a while.

"We know that North Korea and China discussed the problem of stationing a few Chinese troops in Rasun for the purpose of guarding Chinese investments in port facilities," the source apparently said, adding, "If China did indeed send troops, it was to guard facilities and Chinese people from the political and military perspective."

Chosun then goes on to cite a Chinese source as saying, "One night on around December 15th, 2010, more than 50 Chinese armored cars and tanks left Sanhezhen across the Tumen River to Hoiryeong," apparently waking up the metaphorical neighbors. Hoiryeong is just 50km from Rasun, it points out.

Moving on, an international security expert who clearly suspects a grander Chinese motivation and whose political leanings I suspect, and thus feel compelled to admit I don't know, comments, "China fears rapid change in North Korea the most because a large number of defections would thrust China's northeast into a state of confusion," before speculating, "Taking the opportunity presented by stationing troops in Rasun, China will be able to inject military force and intervene in any problem on the Korean Peninsula and protect Chinese citizens."

Elsewhere, in a less easily corroborated quote from 'a source', the piece adds, "North Korea will have judged that although they don't want Chinese troops to be stationed in the country, if they are to obtain Chinese capital, it is inevitable," and adds, somewhat irrelevantly, "North Korean National Security Agency controls over the Chinese have all but disappeared."

Personally, I'm not surprised by this. Yes, if true it certainly violates North Korean sovereignty, but I would imagine that the primary reason is to guard against thievery of raw materials, a problem which is seemingly so endemic that Beijing would have been mad not to have made some kind of preparations for it.

Equally interestingly, the move fits into a pattern of recent news which would tend to suggest that efforts to develop the Chinese northeast and North Korea are gathering speed.

By way of evidence, there is this Daily NK report which notes that the authorities there are selecting the first of the lucky few who are to be sent to Rasun to work in construction, while this one shows the first steps in building a new and jolly flashy $145 million bridge across the Yalu River down at Dandong (map and picture, story in Chinese, h/t Adam, flashy bridge image better represented here), this one suggests that a Chinese group wants to pump $2 billion into Rasun, while this one reports that North Korea even has the self-confidence/chutzpah needed to launch both a "10-Year State Strategy Plan for Economic Development", the first such all-embracing plan since the Third Seven-Year Plan drifted into insignificance in 1993, and a "State General Bureau for Economic Development" to implement it.

Interesting moves.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Big in Beijing: Six-Party Sloganeering

It is not often the case that I agree totally with the words of former U.S. Six-Party Talks negotiator Christopher Hill, but with this afternoon's “The Six-Party Talks have become less of a policy and more of a slogan,” he is very much correct.

China's diplomacy on North Korea seems now to be little more than empty rhetoric, and in some cases it appears outright disingenuous, specifically the backing of the North's recent calls for talks in spite of their questionable sincerity and the fact that Pyongyang is endeavouring to ignore everything that occurred between March 26th and November 23rd, 2010.

“The point of the Six-Party Talks is not to talk," Hill went on in his lecture at Asan Institute for Policy Studies, “The point of the Six-Party Talks is not to have a party.”

"The point is to denuclearize North Korea."

Looking back, that is when he rather lost me, but it had been going well up to then.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chosun Ilbo In the Sights

I enjoy and respect Adam Cathcart's efforts to keep the international and domestic media honest. As far as I am concerned, lying or going super-hyperbolic about North Korea is like shooting fish in a barrel, which should by rights mean easy but not fun. However, that doesn't stop even some of the more seasoned reporters and experts out here.

Adam seems to view the situation similarly. Taking time off from urging people to read the Chinese press with his "How can you say one thing one year and one thing the next?" argument in the comments section here, Adam makes a legitimate basic point, ostensibly that while single-source reports on North Korea need to be swallowed, albeit unwillingly, for reasons of state-enforced unverifiability, shouldn't they at least be consistent with each other?

But I nevertheless question Adam's reasoning in this case. Here is his comment;

The linked Chosun Ilbo asserts that the shooting by DPRK border guards of North Korean refugees on the Chinese side of the river/border is a new phenomenon (attributed of course to Kim Jong Eun, who was last in Hyesan last month, but who needs corroborating details anyway?).

The only problem with the “deadly escalation on the border thanks to the murderous Kim Jong Eun” trope is that it blatantly contradicts the Times of London report (and Tim Peters, via this entry of yours) which asserted similar policies in 2008, and did so far more colourfully, attributing gigantic Russian sniper rifles to the border guards. (It’s these kind of details that make a story really stick in one’s mind, in case North Korean malfeasance were insufficient on its own terms.) Given the absence of other narratives or sources, it’s fine to rely on these single-source stories from the border — and yes, there is nothing about this Chosun Ilbo story just yet on the Changbai city web-pages or the Jilin provincial government pages or the Huanqiu Shibao or the National Defense Journal in China, and I was in Beijing rather than Jilin province on the day of the alleged atrocity — but how is it possible to have it both ways?

Are North Korean border guards already gunning people down on the border, or are we just supposed to forget about all that and go with the Chosun Ilbo flow here? As they write:

North Korean border guards had never shot at defectors once they reached the Chinese side. Observers say guards must have new instructions for dealing with defectors.

Leader Kim Jong-il’s son and heir Jong-un has apparently ordered border guards to shoot anyone who crosses the border rivers without permission. He also reportedly said he would not tolerate defectors crossing the border.

In this case, you see, I don't have any problem with having it both ways; that shoot-to-kill orders could be issued more than once, and furthermore be issued by someone new with a point to prove. Why couldn't this be? Making North Korean border guards follow orders must be a constant battle between the desire on the part of the guard to earn money from turning a blind eye to defections, and official efforts to have that guard shoot the same defectors on-site.

Not only that; the Chosun Ilbo doesn't really say that they are new (i.e. as in not issued before) instructions, just that recent (i.e. plausibly a repetition of prior) instructions have been issued. The word "new" is only present in the English version.

Nevertheless, Adam is doing good work, and I really appreciate it.

By the by, you may like to know that in the Korean version of the article it actually 'quotes' directly the words of Kim Jong Eun! For the record, he allegedly said, "The shooting of persons who cross the river without permission is permitted" and "The taking of bribes to let defectors cross the river will not be forgiven."

Frankly speaking, I very much doubt that the Chosun Ilbo has inside sources quite that good. An opinion I fully anticipate Adam agreeing with.