Introducing the Tumen Triangle Documentation Project: Issue 1

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The Tumen Triangle Documentation Project
Sourcing the Chinese-North Korean Border

edited by Adam Cathcart and Christopher Green
preface by James Hoare

April 2013


Download the full text to The Tumen Triangle Documentation Project: Sourcing the Chinese-North Korean Border, Issue One

Abridged from the introduction:

What is the purpose of examining “the Tumen Triangle,” that multinational landmass centered upon the DPRK’s Tumen River frontier with China?

Foremost is the need to escape, analytically speaking, from Pyongyang’s gravitational pull. To be sure, the period since the death of Kim Jong-il has seen intense changes in the North Korean capital: steadier electricity, relatively rapid turnover in certain leadership positions in the Korean Workers’ Party, the renovation and creation of parks on a large scale, permission for foreigners to carry in cell phones, and of course, the vigorous presence of Kim Jong-un in that unique fairyland-fortress.

But while he may be omnipresent in “the capital of the revolution” with what the state media calls his “matchless pluck,” Kim has scarcely ventured into the grit outside of the city. In particular, an examination of his activities beyond the capital would yield virtually no information about the DPRK’s northern periphery. He may occasionally trek out to West Sea military bases, but, as leader rather than studious successor, Kim does not travel to Hoeryeong; his charismatic and jowly smile does not shine in person upon the citizens of Hyesan. Still less does Kim frequent or so much as set foot upon those zones of ostensible economic “reform and opening up,” Rason and Hwanggeumpyeong.

However, that is his choice. Ours is different. We have moved away, sweeping north to embark upon study of the northeast of the DPRK, and its multivalent Chinese connecting points, thus offsetting the abundant light shone upon Pyongyang and counterbalancing the incomplete, Pyongyang-centered narrative.

Each issue of the Tumen Triangle Documentation Project will focus on current events in the region, but will also look back and reconstruct sources from the last few years to facilitate quantification of what really is “new” and what, as Dr. Hoare so adroitly notes in his preface to this edition, has been going on so long it barely warrants discussion. In addition, we will look more closely at a different region of the Tumen Triangle in every issue, hoping to catch a glimpse of something fresh, something different. First up is Hoeryeong, a city of such contradictions that it could not avoid our gaze.

The Tumen Triangle. Image courtesy of Curtis Melvin and Gregory Pence

The Tumen Triangle. Image courtesy of Curtis Melvin and Gregory Pence

The Tumen Triangle Documentation Project is not an undertaking that the Sino-NK team could possibly do alone. Fortunately, then, there are a number of exceptionally talented people working on North Korea and the borderlands today, and some of them have agreed to lend a hand. We have been fortunate to receive a special essay from Jang Jin-sung. Mr. Jang is not simply a North Korean refugee from the upper echelons of the Kim regime: He has made the decision to step into the light, launching the vibrant Korean-language website New Focus (and its English-language offshoot, New Focus International) to better inform the world about what North Korea is, and what it means.

Elsewhere, we’ve also got a fine piece of reportage from Andray Abrahamian, one of the directors of Choson Exchange, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that is doing groundbreaking work on training North Korean bureaucrats inside North Korea. We’ve also got a great piece by the executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), Greg Scarlatoiu, who discusses the future of something we should all be talking about much, much more: North Korea’s system of political prison camps. Finally, of course, we’ve got great essays from regular Sino-NK analysts Robert Winstanley-Chesters, Brian Gleason, Benjamin Young, and Mycal Ford.

Sino-NK Managing Editor Steven Denney and Assistant Editor Darcie Draudt, without whom this first edition would not have been possible, deserve thanks, as do Curtis Melvin of North Korea Economy Watch and Gregory Pence of Toon Out the World, who combined to establish the pictorial boundaries of the Tumen Triangle itself. Finally, throughout the writing, editing and conceptual process, Ambassador James Hoare has been highly supportive of the endeavor and generous with his critiques and analytical insights.

Adam Cathcart and Christopher Green

Download the full text to The Tumen Triangle Documentation Project: Sourcing the Chinese-North Korean Border, Issue One

Previous Documented Dossiers:

Dossier No. 4, Nick Miller, “Contact Between China and the DPRK, 2010-12: Focus on Ambassador Liu Hongcai,” April 2013.

Dossier No. 3, Adam Cathcart and Michael Madden, eds. “’A Whole New Blueprint:’ Chinese-North Korean Relations at the End of the Kim Jong Il Era, October 21-December 17, 2011,” preface by Stephan Haggard, August 2012.

Dossier No. 2, Adam Cathcart and Charles Kraus, “China’s ‘Measure of Reserve’ Toward Succession: Sino-North Korean Relations, 1983-1985,” February 2012.

Dossier No. 1, Adam Cathcart, ed. “China and the North Korean Succession,” January 16, 2012.

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