Liaoning Expressways, the Global Times, and China as a Great Power in the North Korean Media: KCNA File No. 5

By | January 20, 2012 | No Comments

Northeast China, and Liaoning in particular, has its own unique set of problems: environmental pollution, rates of unemployment and corruption that are higher than the national average, and the occasional violation of its eastern boundary by border guards with guns or North Korean fighter jets. But Liaoning — being more solidly Han, and much closer to Beijing and Pyongyang than peripheral and dangerously bilingual Yanji — is also the gateway for the lion’s share of China’s investment in North Korea. For this reason, Liaoning must be regarded by the North Korean leadership as a distinctive king on the chessboard of potential provincial partners for economic reforms in the DPRK.  (To extend the Western chess analogy, Rason might be considered the queen — fleeter, faster, enigmatic, volatile, more potent in the short run, but the king anchors things, moving lugubriously and even agonizingly, the ultimate sign of success or failure.)  The leadership in Dandong, and state media in Beijing, is doing its damndest to remind the North Korean leadership that China’s arms are wide-open on this frontier. During Kim Jong Il’s funeral, Xinhua reporters gushed about how much money the North Koreans had pumped into the city’s flower shops, and how much the North Korean waitresses and entrepreneurs in the city were steeling their hearts to get back to work, expanding business with China in order to create a North Korea that was “stronger, more prosperous, and more secure.”  

The North Korean media, for reasons that are outlined in yesterday’s Document Dossier, decided during Kim Jong Il’s mourning period to lavish attention on Chinese diplomats in Chongjin (those who coordinate and push the Rason development), marginalize the Chinese ambassador in Pyongyang, and virtually ignore Liaoning province.  When the “Sea of Blood/Pibida” opera troupe returned  to North Korea from a long trip through China, no events were coordinated in Dandong or Sinuiju, although it would have been a perfect opportunity for a display of cross-border excitement.  Dai Yulin, the Party Secretary of Dandong, a veteran Liaoning administrator who is, as the Germans say, an der Spitze with dealings with the DPRK, has probably been through such stretches before.  All one can do is wait, and build expressways.

And thus this past week’s news from Pyongyang: In the absence of bilateral meetings at the provincial level, one single item about Liaoning’s development and transportation infrastrcture brought with it the whiff of trade, the sound of red bills (presumably legitimate bills, printed on the soil of the motherland, Mao’s mole not displaced by DPRK counterfeiters) purring into stacks, and some small comfort for the representatives who see Liaoning as the ultimate springboard to China’s regional influence and economic might.  A small item in this week’s North Korean news about China, but one that bears noticing. — Editor 

Full text of the week’s KCNA China stories hereKCNA File No 5 – Jan 8-14

Analysis:  This second week of January brought a similar pattern of KCNA’ China coverage of the first week of the year: in the first three days of the week, only one China related story was published per day, with the number being published increased in the subsequent days.

Themes of interest this week include: the continuation of China’s rise on the world stage, domestic developments in the PRC, and government direction of the state. The subject of China’s rise has remained a relevant theme over the past weeks, and it made up 7 of the 31 total KCNA China stories this week, illustrating not just China’s increasing power and influence in global politics, but North Korean attentiveness to that power. These stories include: China Rejects U.S. Defense Strategy, China Supports Resumption of Palestine-Israel Talks, China Supports Afghan Efforts for National Reconciliation, China-U.S. Confrontation Will Become Acute: Expert, and finally, China Calls for Resolving Iran’s Nuclear Issue. The North Korean media rarely seems to come out and explicitly state that China is power to be recognized and respected, but more and more stories in KCNA seem to be detailing China’s stark areas of disagreement with the West and specifically the United States. This week in the North Korean press, for example,  Chinese spokespeople rejected the United States claim that China’s modernization is a dangerous precedent, saying that “the modernization will pose no threat to any country.” As China no longer feels the need to put as much faith in the policies of the United States as it has in the past, North Korean media emphasizes China’s autonomy, trying in its own way to peel China away from the “stakeholder” position into which the United States has tried to force it.

North Korean stories about China’s role in world affairs frequently dwell on the notion of PRC support for smaller peripheral states and causes: In KCNA, China’s support for the the resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel shows the PRC as neutral arbiter.  When China calls for the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issues and supports Afghan efforts for reconciliation, it is assumed that China’s involvement in world politics is a positive force and a clear counterweight to the United States.

A final story worth note with this theme is the appearance of a Russian expert in the North Korean media predicting the deterioration of the relationship between China and the United States. The KCNA seems increasingly to be using a Chinese media technique, which is to give voice difficult ideas by quoting foreign experts. In this case, the subject was China’s predicted resistance to American attempts to halt China’s increased influence in Asia. Going further, the expert predicted that China would drive the US out of Asia entirely and refuse its influence over the Persian Gulf area as well. Although the Sino-North Korean relationship is never broached directly, insofar as the KCNA is concerned, China is at all turns depicted as a strong and reasonable partner.

The second most prevalent China-related theme this week in the KCNA is China’s development of domestic policy, which was the subject of 11 the 31 China stories published this week. Perhaps the single most noteworthy story in this category is China’s launching of another satellite into orbit.  As KCNA put it, the satellite would be used for “territorial research, prevention of disasters, protection of ecological environment and other purposes as well as agriculture and forestry.”

And again, KCNA details the Chinese government’s plans to develop ethnic regions for minority groups.

Ian Johnson on the Manchus, the Ebbing Minority in the Border Region, centered in northwest Liaoning -- courtesy Wall Street Journal

The final theme of government direction also witnessed increased coverage this week. Although several of these stories fit into the previous category as well, there were a few unique exceptions. The first was that the CPC called for an increased role in party work at universities, an important parallel development for North Korea as youth work is on the upswing in the new year. Furthermore, there were two stories published detailing Hu Jintao’s call for purifying the CCP and reducing corruption in general.

A final story that did not necessarily fit into a category but is significant nonetheless was: How Does DPRK Have Such Strong Unity?: Chinese Newspaper. DPRK writers, and certainly the country’s Foreign Ministry, are careful readers of the Chinese press, and the summary of Chinese news sources are among the best public sources for reading the modulations in the Sino-North Korean relationship. Last week, we saw how KCNA found a Sina website praising the North Korean people and declaring, supposedly, how lucky citizens of the DPRK were to have Kim Jong Un as their new leader. China’s vested interest in the newly established Kim Jong Un regime, and its support for that regime,  is being touted in North Korea even as readers in the DPRK are given increased, if still rather small, insights into the media landscape north and west, beyond the Yalu and Tumen rivers.

Full textKCNA File No 5 – Jan 8-14

— Evan Koepfler and Adam Cathcart