Kim Jong Un’s Gallant Rescue of Chinese Miners, and Other Tales: KCNA-China File No. 22

By | November 20, 2012 | No Comments

Happy miners pictured at Musan: A message to Chinese firms? Image via Rodong Sinmun, link via NK Economy Watch

FULL TEXT: KCNA File No 22 – Sept 5-Oct 5

Kim Jong Un’s Gallant Rescue of Chinese Miners, and Other Tales: KCNA-China File No. 22

by Adam Cathcart, Roger Cavazos, and Evan Koepfler

This past September, the pages of the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) were the site of a rare open spat between North Korea and a Chinese mining company, Xiyang, a multinational firm that asserted that its facilities had been attacked, that all of its workers had been harassed out of North Korea, and that the DPRK owed the Liaoning-based company some 30 million Euros in damages.  (SinoNK has covered the story via analysis of Chinese media here, here, and here.)

Since Xiyang’s first open cris du coeur against the DPRK’s banditry-as-business-practice, the affair burst onto the pages of Chinese newspapers, and China’s Premier Wen Jiabao tut-tutted his North Korean counterpart about the need to follow foreign investment laws. In mid-October, the spirit of the Xiyang imbroglio hovered like Banquo’s ghost over  an otherwise bustling “Trade, Culture, and Tourism Expo” in Dandong. While the Chinese government has made it clear that the Xiyang incident is not going to derail the overall Sino-North Korean relationship, the government has also allowed for ongoing public airing of the issue and consequent questioning of North Korean intentions.  As Jane Perlez accurately noted in the New York Times, the symbolism of the Xiyang affair highlights the stark fact that any foreign investment in North Korea remains incredibly risky.

Enter Kim Jong Un, his helicopter, and the scribes of the KCNA:

Chinese Workers Saved from Critical Condition in DPRK

Pyongyang, September 14 (KCNA) — Six Chinese workers were saved from a critical condition after being hit hard by heavy rains and landslide in a mining area of Jangjin County, South Hamgyong Province.

On August 28, typhoon-15 struck Jangjin County as well as other areas of the DPRK, causing heavy rains and landslide and inflicting huge losses upon its residents.

The flood-stricken mine was left without any contact with outside, looking like an isolated islet.

The Chinese workers active there were also in hard conditions.

The residents and the Chinese workers strove hard to overcome the disaster, sharing warm feelings, but their conditions became from bad to worse as the days go by as there was lack of food and medicine.

Upon learning about this, the dear respected Kim Jong Un gave an instruction to conduct an operation to rescue the Chinese workers.

By an order of Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army Kim Jong Un, a helicopter flew to the area but faced great difficulties.

The worsening weather conditions and the landslide made it hard for the copter to spot the mining area and find any proper place for landing.

It succeeded in landing thanks to the matchless courage of its pilots and conveyed relief goods, but it could not take off due to its damaged aerofoil.

Kim Jong Un sent a plane there, saying the Chinese workers should be rescued come what may.

The Chinese workers were finally rescued from the natural disaster thanks to the strong sense of internationalist obligation and warm loving care of Kim Jong Un who has paid deep attention to developing the DPRK-China friendly relations provided and valued by President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.

Upon deplaning, they went to the Chinese embassy here and asked it to convey their profound thanks to the DPRK side.

What is this story about?  Having (presumably) sanctioned the literal attack on the Xiyang holdings in early 2012(and showed that  nationalization through force is always an option, the government in Pyongyang may now be fearing that Chinese firms would no longer invest in North Korea. This includes the Musan Mine.

If we are to take the “Kim Jong Un rescue helicopter” narrative literally, it was indeed a rare admission of the DPRK’s logistical challenges that they were unable to rapidly conduct field repair on a relatively small helicopter fleet.  Possible causes for such difficulties include:

– no spare parts (an indication sanctions are having a bite),

– lack of training on that specific platform (possibly indicating that Kim Jong Un sent one of the low density platforms that doesn’t have a fleet of trained mechanics ready)

Nevertheless, the narrative makes for some fine story-telling and serves the purpose of at least publicly trying to patch up relations by demonstrating North Korea will do its utmost to rescue and take care of  foreigners who invest in North Korea.  The dear respected Leader does not send the helicopter out to rescue just anyone.  It is very rare – which is something we can only tell by combing KCNA on a frequent basis. And this is the first mention we know of where Kim Jong Un dispatched the helicopter to rescue foreigners.

Both the action and its publicity is a far cry from the DPRK’s halting response when seven Chinese tourists and businessmen were killed in a car crash a year ago outside of Pyongyang. But whereas the Chinese media covered the PRC’s quick response to that crisis in 2011, in 2012, there was scarcely any echo at all in the Chinese media of the KCNA’s over-the-top treatment of the Chinese miners in distress.  (The website of the Chinese Embassy in the DPRK was completely silent about it, for example.)  It could very well be that the North Korean leadership was endeavoring to repair damage with the Chinese public via this episode, but they were denied even the slightest opportunity when the Chinese press organs refused to pass it along.

Along the same lines, the North Korean state also made an explicit move via its media to alleviate the damage done from May 2012 and the takingof some Chinese fishermen hostage.  In this KCNA file, one can see North Korea giving China the equivalent of a big bear hug by relating the story of a North Korean fishing vessel adrift, but found and rescued by their Chinese neighbors – fishing clear on the East side of the Korean peninsula. Alas, their gestures were mainly lost – but not on our loyal readers.

Notable also by their absence from KCNA press was the fairly extensive Chinese press coverage of Special Economic Zones with DPRK in the month analyzed.  It’s unclear why PRC’s stories were almost completely unrequited, especially since the zones are much-touted and should be newly energized by the numerous fairs.

We continue to aggregate and analyze KCNA’s writings relating to China and Sino-North Korean relations, the ways in which North Korean official media have moved. There are so many stories – 56 to be exact – in this particular installment, but without the indefatigable efforts of Evan Koepfler in Chengdu we couldn’t bring any of this to you.  In Part 21 of this ongoing series, analyst Evan Koepfler again rides into the salt mine and returns with analytic rubies, diamonds and sapphires.

FULL TEXT: KCNA File No 22 – Sept 5-Oct 5

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