Smoke Bombs and Tunnels: Chinese Experts Probe North Korea’s Nuclear Intentions

By | February 05, 2013 | No Comments

The mini Gang of Four: Qiu Zhenhai as moderator of program: Li Yazhen (top right); Zhu Jiarong (center right); and Zhu Feng (bottom right)

Gang of Four: Qiu Zhenhai as moderator meets with North Korean businesswoman Li Yazhen (top right) and professors Zhu Jiarong (center right) and Zhu Feng (bottom right).

Smoke Bombs and Tunnels: Chinese Experts Probe North Korea’s Nuclear Intentions

Thanks to Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga in Beijing and a helping hand from one of the web’s top Huanqiu Shibao translators, you have a front-row seat to China’s dialectic discussions on North Korea playing out on Hong Kong Television. Publicly discussing China’s relationship with North Korea would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.  This particular discussion really yields a few insights: Most of all, it indicates that China recognizes that the North Korea issue is irreversibly internationalized.  North Korea’s denial and defiance drives disproportionately large responses to China’s security because North Korean behavior creates ever-greater synergy between three of China’s six largest trading partners (the United States, Japan, and South Korea). 

The decision to ask Li Yuzhen, a North Korean businesswoman who has lived in China for 30 years, to represent the DPRK point of view is likely meant to convey China’s continual hope that North Korea engages in economic reform.  Zhu Feng conveys the “China first” and international relations perspective.  While his views are surely not synonymous with China’s seven-man Politburo, he has frequently spoken at fora representing China’s view, and, being at Beijing University he is in a position to reflect and inform Chinese official views.  When he sneezes, Pyongyang ought to wonder if the Politburo has caught the cold as well. And the third guest on the panel, Zhu Jianrong, provides the view from Japan and outside China, indicating again that the China-DPRK relationship is one of many regional chess games going on.  It’s a small but surely positive sign that Zhu and the other guests are at least talking about ways to keep the temperature down on Sino-Japanese territorial disputes and hoping that North Korea and Japan can bury the hatchet. Or is Japan just a card to play against North Korea?

Finally, while it’s evident that China is re-thinking its relation to North Korea, the PRC is not about to abandon North Korea, and is not scared of North Korean nuclear weapons. Note: As of the interview and the publication of our translation, North Korea had not conducted a third nuclear test.  China has already telegraphed their reaction to a third North Korean nuclear test.— Roger Cavazos, Coordinator

Phoenix TV,  “How Should China Respond to the Chaotic Security Situation on in East Asia [中国究竟该如何应对东亚安全乱局?], on Qiu Zhenhai’s Records of Listening to the WindJanuary 30, 2013.  Translated from the Chinese transcript of the original video by special guest JustRecently (F. Bleeker), Adam Cathcart, Roger Cavazos, and Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga.

Qiu Zhenhai (hereafter Moderator): From the Sino-Japanese air confrontation over the Diaoyu Islands to the position stridently proclaimed by North Korea that it would “take powerful and high-profile physical measures to defend the country,” the war clouds are hovering over Northeast Asia, itself a tinderbox which could ignite at any time.  On the one hand, we see Japan, a country that almost daily becomes more and more hard-line conservative. On the other side, we see North Korea ready to let fly with another nuclear weapons test.

How should China respond to the security chaos in East Asia? With Japan launching another spy satellite to monitor North Korea, it seems that the China-Japan-DPRK triangle has reached a decisive point: Which way will the situation in Northeast Asia turn in 2013?

Joining us to discuss these questions are Zhu Feng, deputy director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Peking University, Zhu Jianrong, professor at Dongyang Gakuin University in Japan, and North Korean businesswoman Li Yuzhen.

As just discussed, the international media is very concerned about the grave and evolving situation in East Asia in the first month of 2013. The region has reached the point of becoming a powder keg. If the situation remains like this, [it stands to reason that] in the future things could really lead to war. Now that the Sino-Japanese quarrel over the Diaoyu Islands has just started leveling off, then, will the third North Korean nuclear test take place or not? And when will it be held?

In Hong Kong, with regard to this issue , the foremost person who has a close relationship with North Korea is the businesswoman Li Yuzhen. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen her, and we will see if she has the latest internal information [最新的内部消息] from North Korea or not.

Now, Kim Jong-un has been in office for more than a year, and, in the most recent period in particular, he said North Korea would hold its third nuclear test. Let’s see whether or not there is a new situation prevailing [in North Korea].

Li Yuzhen relays a DPRK-friendly and business-oriented perspective.  China still hopes DPRK will engage in economic reform.

Li Yuzhen relays a DPRK-friendly and business-oriented perspective. China still hopes DPRK will engage in economic reform.

第三次核爆的最新消息The Latest News on the DPRK’s Third Nuclear Explosion

Li Yuzhen: North Korea launched the Kwangmyonsong-3 and -2 to put a man-made satellite in orbit, and the UN Security Council went forward with sanctions.  All the countrymen in the DPRK were very upset because they believe that sanctions are tantamount to war, tantamount to a declaration of war against North Korea.

Moderator: If that is indeed the case, has he [i.e., Kim Jong-un] or has he not put forward a timetable for a third nuclear test?

Li Yuzhen: No timetable [has been made public].  A couple of days ago I saw a North Korean friend. [Speaking from] the Chinese side, I asked him directly whether he would launch a third nuclear test, and he [said] he believed they would do it very soon. But I believe they won’t.  If you look back at the September 19 repeal of the resolution, this decision arose out of [所引起的] the U.S.’ antagonistic policy towards North Korea. It also bears noting that it was due to South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak, this scum of the race, who before stepping down recommended to the [United Nations] Security Council a new resolution on sanctions against North Korea.

Moderator: Is this is your personal analysis, or does it come from inside North Korea?

Li Yuzhen: This is my personal analysis.

Moderator: If that is the case, then why in the recent past, have North Korean officials so often repeated the same old shit [什么屡次说], that they may have to carry out a third nuclear test? In the end, is this just a smoke bomb, or is there really a plan for a test?

Li Yuzhen: [I would direct you to] the statement released by North Korea against the sanctions resolution.

Moderator: So, based on your analysis, on the one hand, you can see Kim Jong-un responding with a strike [做一个反弹] against the sanctions resolution, while on the other hand, [you imply,] that by and large the atmosphere is actually very good, since not long previously, North Korea has already made such a strike [via the rocket test in April, presumably], meaning, in fact, that what we see now is merely smoke shells.

Li Yuzhen: [I believe that] because if North Korea does a third nuclear test, the whole situation on the Korean Peninsula will undergo a very big change, a change which is not positive for the interests of international peace and economic development. There is no direct benefit to anyone, not the United States and not China; nothing good can possibly come of such a test for these few great powers.

Moderator: Thank you very much. After a few weeks or a few months have passed, we will be able to test ourselves whether or not your personal judgments are correct — and now to Zhu Feng in Beijing!

I know you that you and Miss Li Yuzhen are old friends, and also old rivals who have often engaged in a war of words [唇枪舌剑] on our program, but, what Ms. Li just said comes as a surprise to all of us….Did she really just say these words or not? I’ll give you a chance to interpret events: North Korea said that they would soon undertake a third nuclear test explosion. Is this, in fact, just a smoke bomb — do you agree?

Zhu Feng is a professor of International Relations at Beijing University and frequent PRC interlocutor in academic and policy circles. While not authoritative, he has great insight into developing and promulgating PRC international strategy.

Zhu Feng: I cannot see how a new nuclear test would bring any benefits to North Korea. Of course, on the other hand, we can say that if North Korea really does carry out a third nuclear test, the result will be very, very important, foremost because inter-Korean relations [南北韩关系] will relapse, completely, to the Lee Myung-bak era.  That is why President-elect Park Geun-hye has already stated that another nuclear test would disturb the warming of North-South relations. Moreover, if a nuclear test goes forward, you [North Koreans] could lock China into a corner and force China to have to re-think our North Korea policy [迫使中国不得不重新去思考我们的朝鲜政策]. This would also strengthen the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

Moderator:  I think this point is a very good one, but with regard to the point about China’s attitude that you just mentioned, we might return again to the North Korean stance: The reason for the release of the so-called smoke bomb is that China and the United States have recently and jointly declared the sanctions resolution through the UN Security Council Statement by the President. Why has China joined forces with the US to do this?  Since North Korea at that time did not present a threat or exhibit hostility towards the region, why would China want to join up with the United States to do this?

 中朝关系如何微妙演? How subtly are relations between China and the DPRK evolving?

Zhu Feng: I think that the United Nations Security Council passing Resolution 2087, was not simply the United States and China joining hands to deal with North Korea, but North Korea two satellite launch in 2012. On December 12, 2012, although it was a success, but it was a clear violation of the United Nations Resolution 1874 [since] we all know. So from this perspective, I think the behavior of North Korea is such a blatant provocation to the United Nations Security Council resolutions, that it requires sanctions.

But on the other hand, our guest must note that as for the issue of how the United Nations Security Council sanctions North Korea, China has done a great job. We made the original proposal by the United States to further expand the relevant resolutions of the sanctions against the DPRK turn into just an increase of the number of sanctions projects, so I think North Korea must see some effort and kindness from China

Moderator: Ms. Lee, do you agree with Zhu Feng’s judgments? Punishment for bad deeds of long ago, North Korea launched a satellite, but at the same time the Chinese have also done a lot of work, slowing U.S. sanctions efforts.

Li Yuzhen: This is not bad behavior, but the legitimate act of a sovereign country, which they should have a right to do, and that is the peaceful uses of outer space. North Korea ‘s launch of Kwangyongmyong-3 and -2 is very legitimate. For the UN Security Council to sanction North Korea and make a double standard is unfair and should be universally condemned.

Zhu Feng: North Korea’s satellite technology is clearly under the United Nations Security Council [since] there were restrictions from at least three resolutions. So from this perspective, the DPRK’s satellite launch, it’s not to say that I [North Korea] have no right to, but under the existing international rules and under the framework of the system, the question is how should North Korea do this [launch]?

Moderator: Ms. Lee, relating to Kim Jong-un’s attitude toward all of this: He’s just such a young lad, do you think he understands what is happening?

Li Yuzhen: Kim Jong-un’s stance toward the problem is that it is not so much the problem of the Kwangyongmyong satellite but the question is a problem of national sovereignty and the right to peaceful use of outer space.

Moderator: Since this is the case, you just said a third nuclear test in North Korea without the [United Nations] General Assembly being held, where’s your evidence? It seems your attitude about this is very tough.

Li Yuzhen: I believe that DPRK will not do a nuclear test because… [changes train of thought] North Korea’s [decision to] conduct a nuclear test is because of the United States’ antagonistic relationship, that is the root cause here. The North’s nuclear test is in self-defense. If the United States or the [United Nations] Security Council, as well as South Korea and Japan, renounce their hostility towards the DPRK, the DPRK will not have the need to possess nuclear weapons.

Moderator: We hope that the situation in Northeast Asia, from February 1 on, won’t resemble last month’s out-of-the-pan-into-the-fire condition, but even if the trees would prefer calm, the wind doesn’t subside. After a short break, we will look into how the governments involved actually study and judge, and how they take steps out of [the predicament of] reason. We will be right back.

Welcome back to “Qiu Hai’s Records of Listening to the Wind.” This is about the situation in East Asia, and the security situation in Northeast Asia in particular. We will soon be past January and East Asia isn’t peaceful at all. Sino-Japanese relations are bubbling with noise over the islands dispute, and in February, North Korea’s first nuclear test may or may not be carried out. From the current situation, each side explores the other, some stubbornly insist on their views [不撞南墙不回头], some feel around for the bottom-line, and some explore the parties’ conduct [attitudes]. For this issue, we have invited three guests from different places to find out what expectations they have for each others’ countries. Let’s look at China’s policy toward Japan first. Zhu Feng, what do you think China expects Abe to understand, what do you think he’s expected to do?

Zhu Feng: I think China’s expectation towards Abe in 2013 is a return to a businesslike, gentle position, which isn’t to say that China wants more, but that at least Japan should recognize that there is a dispute. If they can’t recognize that, this arrogance and prejudice is something China can’t accept.

Moderator: Jian Rong, from what you know about Japan and particularly about Abe, will Abe be able to do that bit during the first half of this year?

2013年的地区安全局走向  Trends for Regional Security in 2013

Professor Zhu Jianrong is in Japan.  His presence likely indicates China understands support to DPRK also drives the U.S. and Japan closer.

Professor Zhu Jianrong is in Japan. His presence likely indicates China understands support to DPRK also drives the U.S. and Japan closer.

Zhu Jianrong: There is some flexibility domestically in Japan now, as people understand the importance of Sino-Japanese relations, so, we want to safeguard and advance recent exchange between China and Japan, pay attention to the overall situation, that’s the overall trend. When it comes to Northeast Asia, I think America is at the focus of China’s work. First of all, we want to know if America can start exchanges and talks with North Korea, and at the same time – my personal observation, as for the overall situation, concerning both the North Korean nuclear issue and the Sino-Japanese dispute – America is focused on the North Korean issue, and if there is cooperation between China and America on the North Korean issue, this could exert some pressure on Japan. Therefore, I believe, America is the key [factor] in this process.

Moderator: So if the cards are played well on the North Korean nuclear issue, and China and America once again join each other on the North Korean nuclear issue, this could, partly perhaps, restrain Abe? Are you optimistic about that?

Zhu Feng: I think this is a very important point of view. In fact, America plays an important role in the islands dispute, and in the entire issue of Sino-Japanese strategic relation trends. We all know why the Diaoyu storm arose this time. America really played the Japanese card against China – this is a very important background. At hindsight, when America played the Japanese card on China, China and Japan were already locked into each other over the Diaoyu Islands. Actually, America’s interest shouldn’t have deserved to obtain this kind of so-called reasonable return. As we have just said, if China and Japan had really let loose on each other, this could have badly damaged the global economy. So, from this perspective, America needs to steady Japan with one hand, and find a reasonable way to talk to China on the other. If America wants to play the Japanese card against China, then China needs to play the North Korean nuclear card on America.

Moderator: Li Yuzhen, North Korea currently wants to play the China card and the Japan card. [But] to stabilize Sino-Japanese relations, the best thing to do is to play the North Korean card.

Li Yuzhen: North Korea entered the United Nations Security Council in 1991 [actually only UN, not Security Council], it is also one of the UN Security Council members. Therefore, the UN Security Council should respect Korea’s sovereignty and its people’s dignity. They can’t apply double standards to the DPRK.

Moderator: There are open media reports saying that Kim Jong-un really wants bilateral contacts with Abe, to restore or extend North Korean-Japanese relations. Do you attach importance to this situation?

安倍是否愿意与金正恩接触?Does (Japanese leader) Shinzo Abe Want to Engage with Kim Jong-un?

 Li Yuzhen: It doesn’t matter who wants to meet – what should matter is world peace. North Korean leaders, past and present, have done their utmost to make certain contributions to world peace. If it really helps peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, meetings with anyone should be OK, I believe.

Zhu Jianrong: I think there is no great likelihood that the top leaders of North Korea and Japan will meet. On the so-called abduction issue, Abe has recently remained quite tough domestically. Right now, on history issues, on Chinese issues, Abe, because of pressure from many sides, can’t soften his gestures. So, he has to show his right-wing stance, and placate the right wingers at home. He’s quite tough on the North Korean issue, and I think it would be quite difficult to open this impasse.

Moderator: January will soon be over, and it hasn’t been a calm month. But if North Korea carries out its third nuclear test, February will be even more unquiet. So as January ends, and February begins, frankly speaking, East Asia is next to a powder keg and at a strategic crossroads. Everything depends on the hearts and minds of the national leaders involved.

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  1. Incidentally, Zhu Feng has another Huanqiu Shibao op-ed here

    and is quoted extensively in this Nanfang Zhoumo piece

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