China-North Korea Dossier No. 3: North Korea’s Relations with China at the End of the Kim Jong-il Era

By | August 21, 2012 | No Comments

Sino-NK Dossier No. 3


This dossier, a joint research project with North Korea Leadership Watch and with a preface by Stephan Haggard, is based upon open sources which chronicle the matrix of meetings and contacts in the Chinese-North Korean relationship in the two months prior to the death of Kim Jong-il.

Why engage in such an endeavor? At a time when most analysts are focused on the future of
the Chinese-North Korean relationship, why look back at the last weeks of Kim Jong-il’s reign?

We believe that this period is in need of investigation, in part, because the events set a baseline about what an active Sino-North Korean relationship looks like – and, from the Chinese perspective, desirably so.

In the last eight weeks of Kim Jong-il’s life, the Dear Leader:

– presided over movement on a full-scale range of economic initiatives geared toward China,
– met (and introduced his son to) the incoming PRC Premier,
– invited the Chinese Ambassador for dinner,
– visited two Chinese-North Korean joint ventures,
– and had discussions with a top People’s Liberation Army general in the middle of a controversy over border security.

Contrast that with his son’s record since taking the top posts in the DPRK. In eight months, Kim Jong Un has:

– greeted the Chinese ambassador on his way out of an Unhasu Orchestra concert (March 8),
– did nothing to prevent two crises of Sino-North Korean relations (missile test & the abduction of 28 Chinese fishermen
– sat at a Moranbong Band concert where nice things were said and sung about China (July 30),
– met with Wang Jiarui (August 3),
– and agreed to send his uncle and 50 officials to China (August 14-17).

By contrast, the “continuously good coordination [继续保持良好的配合]” for which Kim Jong-il praised himself with regard to China on October 31 was, at the end of his reign in 2011, more of a reality than it had ever been before during his time in power.

It now seems obvious that North Korea’s relations with China have only slowly returned to “normal” after Kim Jong-il’s death – and still have a long way to go before reaching the frenetic pace established in 2011.



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