Blog Buzz

By | February 19, 2012 | No Comments

In the spirit of Pyongyang’s speed campaigns and China’s rapid (though not entirely ungreased by corruption) railways, we would like to bring you a few of the more interesting points of connectivity from the past week. — Adam Cathcart and Charles Kraus, co-editors

Capturing the Cacophony of Construction on Mansudae, Pyongyang - Rodong Sinmun, February 20, 2012

1. Twitter activity was accelerated.  The SinoNK Twitter feed allows you to have a more dynamic reading experience.

A sample, if you can handle the truth, of some of the action from this afternoon:

@Sino_NK : Extensive #Rodong Sinmun analysis of Sino-Japanese tensions over Diaoyu Islands (in Korean)

@Sino_NK : #Rodong article cites “Chinese internet poll” wherein 75% of respondants see Japan’s steps as “acts of aggression”

@Sino_NK : In denouncing a Japanese academic for saying it, #Rodong Sinmun today also embeds phrase “China threat [《중국위협론》/ “中国威胁论”]

Is this type of “online publication” framentary? Absolutely, but it also represents something like real-time analysis. (In the above case, analysis of the February 20 Rodong Sinmun, which hits the digital newsstands at about 2 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on February 19, allowing you to “get ahead” on your news reading, particularly if based in North America, and gives you a sense how North Koreans are encouraged to see the world, and China’s place within that world.)

On the same Twitter feed, there is also a healthy dose of North Korea-China news from other parts of the Korean peninsula, Beijing, and around the world, making it a recommended experience:

 Follow on Twitter @Sino_NK 

2. Stephan Haggard, co-author of the Witness to Transformation book and blog, profiles SinoNK’s Document Dossier #2:

Entitled China’s “Measure of Reserve” to Succession: Sino-North Korean Relations 1983-5, the dossier not only offers up insightful commentary but uses simple technology that is transforming historical studies; authors can now not only cite documents but provide direct links to them as Cathcart and Kraus do here. A recurrent theme, though, is that the documents should not be taken at face value; the CIA analysis itself is a major part of the story as agency analysts fretted about Soviet intentions in Northeast Asia.

The dossier begins with a CIA assessment of Kim Jong Il’s first official trip to China in 1983 and the dilemmas it posed for the Chinese. Not wild about the dynastic succession they nonetheless wanted to size up Kim Jong Il. For his part, Kim Jr. sought status and foreign policy credentials through endorsement by Beijing. Sound familiar?

3. SinoNK’s Analyst for Technology David Matthew’s essay on the alleged cell phone ban in North Korea added to the velocity of critiques of the original Daily Telegraph story, and was consequently picked up by North Korea Tech, the well-regarded site maintained by Martyn Williams, who wrote:

The Daily Telegraph report was attributed to Good Friends, a South Korean NGO, and came days before OTMT Chairman Naguib Sawiris arrived in Pyongyang to meet with senior government officials. During the visit the company announced Koryolink had signed up its millionth customer.

Several red flags associated with the Daily Telegraph’s report were outlined earlier this week by David Matthew on the SinoNK blog. He points out that the network is already tightly controlled, any ban would cut into a lucrative source of foreign exchange for the government (Koryolink bills users in euros), and might sour relationships with Orascom, which is also completing construction of the iconic Ryugyong Hotel.

Add to that the simple fact that if the government wants people off mobile phones it could just order the network to be shut down. That would be much more effective than threatening subscribers.

4. Jende Huang, SinoNK’s Border Security Analyst, opened the gates for a powerful website in 2012 (to coin a phrase) with his post “Spreading Meth Across the North Korean-Chinese Border.”  Huang’s analysis was feasted upon by a whole host of listservs, analyzed further by Kenneth Tan’s essential Shanghaiist, cited by a number of drug policy websites, and picked up by Global Voices Online editor Oiwan Lam in, among other languages, Spanish.  Huang’s post also sparked a more in-depth look by Claude Levy, who writes for one of France’s best China-Korea sites, Aujourd’hui en Chine in a post entitled “China Lives with its Dealer: North Korea“:

Les Chinois l’appelle le « bingdu », elle est connu ailleurs sous le nom de « Crystal meth » ou « Ice ». Cette drogue puissante et addictive serait répandu « à un niveau épidémique » en Corée du Nord, et les producteurs du pays exporteraient en masse vers la Chine voisine, explique Jengde Huang pour le blog Sino-NK.  […]

Dandong parano

Le marché et la production y sont en tout cas assez développés pour permettre une exportation croissante vers les provinces frontalières chinoises, le Lianoning, Jilin et le Heilongjiang. Alors que la frontière sud de la Corée du Nord et sa Zone Démilitarisée est très imperméable, la Chine entretient quelques échanges avec le « pays le plus fermé du monde », et cette frontière longue de 1400 kilomètres est réputée poreuse.

Difficile de savoir pourquoi le régime du juche reste si immobile face à la situation. Si aucune information n’indique que Pyongyang est impliqué dans la production ou le trafic, il est possible que les autorités trouvent un intérêt à ne pas s’y attaquer. Les observateurs s’interrogent : le bingdu est-il considéré comme un facteur de stabilité ? Des officiels de hauts-niveau sont-ils impliqués dans le trafic ?

Le silence de Pékin soulève encore plus de questions. Des officiels auraient déjà reconnu le trafic de drogue à la frontière Nord-coréenne, en prenant soin de préciser qu’il était largement minoritaire face aux importations en provenance du triangle d’or ou du Japon.

5. Adam Cathcart’s essay on The Diplomat about Kim Jong Un’s “Twitter assassination” was quoted in a write-up about the issue by Emily Lodish, the East Asia editor of the Global Post. View the original essay by Cathcart on makes the leap to radio, thanks to Mike Weisbart of TBS eFM's "This Morning" in Seoul

6. Writing for the Daily Kos, Wu Ming picked up on Cathcart’s Dossier No. 1, “China and the North Korean Succession,” and praised the collection for piercing through the “tiresome” pledges of mutual support between China and North Korea. Read Wu Ming’s article, and a handful of comments from Daily Kos readers about the dossier’s take on China’s role in the Kim-Kim power transition: “Some Grist for the Mill on North Korea.”

7. has been linked several times by Bill Bishop’s Sinocism, a great source for China links and analysis, by Gusts of Popular Feeling, an excellent guide to the South Korean press and issues confronting foreigners in the ROK, and in North Korea News Links, new site whose “Weekly News Brief” is a fine agglomerative resource.

8. Adam Cathcart appeared on TBS eFM’s program “This Morning with Mike Weisbart” in Seoul on February 14 to discuss Chinese media buzz around the situation in Syria and its possible “contaigion effect” (to use the phrase of Dartmouth College professor Jennifer Lind) in North Korea. A podcast of the broadcast can be accessed here (reference episode 107 or Part 1 of the morning broadcast for Feb. 14).

9. Applications for writers and analysts for closed on February 8. Our present Staff is extremely strong, representing an array of linguistic and disciplinary fluencies and high levels of both accomplishments and potential.  Since February 8, we have added four more analysts, bringing to a full strength of sixteen staff members headed up by two editors (ourselves) who also double as analysts.

Sports metaphors are never perfect, but, having experienced the “Linsanity” of an early string of wins, we and the Staff are now digging in for the long haul, which is to say, until about the NBA Finals start in June.  Will Jeremy Lin and Kim Jong Un, having shared a Time magazine cover, still be standing then?  We know we will be, and striding forward, because the “Footsteps” are uptempo these days, and there are more posts to edit, more dossiers to write, and more manuscripts — the paper kind — to carve into.  Thanks for reading.

Follow on Twitter: @Sino_NK

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