Gold, Ideology, and Self-Criticism in Chinese Coverage of the Jang Purge

By | January 01, 2014 | No Comments

"We've got three more factionalist counter-revolutionaries in the Party?" | Image: StimmeKoreas You Tube channel

“There are three more factionalist counter-revolutionaries in the Party?” | Image: Chosun Central Television (altered You Tube screen grab)

Recent media coverage of the fallout from the purge of Jang Sung-taek has been both abundant and fascinating, and this is particularly true for Chinese readers. Coverage of the Jang affair in mainland China has been limited in some important ways, while in others it has allowed for expanded expressions of Chinese alarm, for instance over North Korea’s ongoing march toward nuclear missile capability.

The coverage has not simply provided Chinese readers with a window into recent political developments in the DPRK and attempts by the Korean Workers’ Party to rally domestic support around leader Kim Jong-un.  It has also stepped into some potentially sensitive areas, such as the purge of Jang Sung-taek’s partners and colleagues, the viability of special economic zones along the Sino-Korean frontier, and even speculation about the sex life of Ri Sol-ju, the North Korean first lady.

Of particular note in the following translated article are revelations that the DPRK may be selling gold to China (thus breaking a long-standing prohibition on exporting the precious metal) and suspicions that Jang’s former allies may have fled to China in the wake of his execution.  Efforts by the South Korean government to secure the purchase of new military hardware from the United States, as well as the concerns regarding KPA military deployments near the two countries’ disputed maritime border, have further heightened tensions on the peninsula, but even Chinese strategic sympathy for North Korea is running thin.

South Korea Anxious that North-South Tensions Will Rise; Sino-North Korean Border Trade Route is Absolutely Normal,” [韩国忧南北紧张升级 中朝边界贸易通道一切正常], Huanqiu Shibao, December 13, 2013. 

“Follow the Leader to the ends of the Earth.” Thus read, on December 12, the North Korean Workers’ Party central organ Rodong Sinmun in its front page article lauding the “Korean People’s Army which will follow Comrade Kim Jong-un to the end with unshakable faith and will.” The article said that the people’s anger had soared since the spread of news regarding the Workers’ Party  Central Committee Political Bureau’s enlarged meeting [on December 8]; looking serious and thoughtful, people make no effort to hide their feelings.

In defense of the motherland, air force soldiers gripped the guns of the revolution and towards the skies of Pyongyang issued a thunderous declaration (发出雷声):

“We only know our beloved Marshal Kim Jong-un! Even if the sky falls, we will follow our beloved Marshal!”

The article went on, stating:

During a major historical period in which our country’s revolution has entered a new stage of development, our Party has seen through the conspiracies of a handful of anti-Party counterrevolutionary factional elements (一小撮反党反革命宗派分子的阴谋活动) and decisively eliminated them, thus resolutely safeguarding our country’s revolutionary character, once again showing the world that no force can break our unity and power.

On December 12, Rodong Sinmun also published [an article] to commemorate the memory of the late leader Kim Jong-il entitled “The Fiery Life of the Great Creator and the People’s Father” (“伟大的创造者、人民慈父的火热一生”). The article said that the revered Comrade Kim Jong-un continues to promote the main Juche structural thought and achievements (主体建筑思想和业绩) of the great leader Comrade Kim Jong-il. Under his leadership, Songun Korea will be a vibrant place, and will fly higher and faster into the future (先军朝鲜将朝气勃勃,更高更快地向前飞奔).

On December 12, Yonhap reported that following Kim Jong-un’s purge of his powerful uncle, North Korean state media has continued to promote a public campaign in support of Kim Jong-un. Japan’s NHK television has reported that North Korea’s official media reported on December 12 that the DPRK “will continue to launch satellites”, despite the protests of the international community, in order to continue to demonstrate their posture regarding their launching of ballistic missiles. On December 12, Japan’s Sankei Simbun criticized North Korea, saying that stubbornly conducting missile launches will inevitably lead to new sanctions.

According to a report by South Korea’s Kyunghyang Sinmun (京乡新闻 /경향신문), a source revealed that on December 11 the North Korean government ordered that an “essay denouncing Jang” (张成泽批斗文) must be submitted by all citizens 17 years old and up, including those residing abroad. The DPRK government has also ordered that all photos from the Kim Il-sung era onward which include Jang must be registered (都要登记). South Korea’s Munhwa Ilbo commented that December 17 is the second anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il, and the attendance of Kim Jong-un’s aunt has become the focus.

On December 11, Yonhap quoted “sources from the DPRK” regarding the large quantities of gold North Korea has exported to China in recent months. According to the report, one of Kim Il-sung’s teachings (遗训) was “to never export gold.” The fact that North Korea has begun to export gold to China indicates that the DPRK is facing its most serious economic crisis since the country’s founding. According to South Korean government data, North Korea currently has buried 2,000 tons of gold, worth a minimum of more than US $8 billion.

On December 12, Yonhap speculated that North Korea would find a newer (更新) replacement for Jang. According to the report, since Kim Jong-un came to power he has emphasized the important role that young scientists in their twenties through forties can play in the realm of science and technology. On December 8, a Rodong Sinmun editorial stressed that North Korean society under Kim Jong-un will be defined by its “vitality” (朝气蓬勃). Some analysts believe that a large number of young people with professional knowledge will be placed in important positions, bringing with them new changes and vitality to North Korean society.

“The expanding “North-East Asian black hole”

“The Korean People’s Army will not tolerate  military confrontation activities from the puppet group (傀儡集团/i.e. South Korea), and will be the first power to resolutely smash them away (将以先军威力将之坚决粉碎掉 )”. On December 12, the DPRK Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland secretary bureau issued a statement condemning the recent South Korea authorities’ unprecedented interest in introducing the latest war equipment.

KCNA quoted the communiqué as saying that South Korea imported war equipment under US pressure. The United States, in an attempt to more thoroughly control the puppet South Korean forces through military means, is using the South Koreans as a commando for Asian strategy, and has taken the opportunity to sell a large number of weapons and equipment. As all the facts clearly show, continued the document, the destruction of peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and North-East Asia is the bane of South Korea. The communiqué stressed:

South Korea has been overwhelmed by North Korea’s strong military power, and has rashly attempted to rely on equipment and technology to compensate for their own disadvantages, but this is just stupid illegal ridiculous self-defeating ugliness (愚蠢的亡命徒自掘坟墓的可笑丑态).

Yonhap promptly reported that news that “North Korea attacked the South Korean military purchase plan.”  According to the report, South Korea is pushing to buy 40 F-35A stealth fighters and 4 unmanned reconnaissance aircraft from the United States as part of Seoul’s medium-term military build-up plan for coping with increasing military threats from North Korea. The DPRK warned that this would provoke a regional arms race. The US [sic, Canadian] Globe and Mail said, on December 12 the South Korean government said that it would invest 740 million won in additional alarm equipment on the five  islands neighboring the inter-Korean border to protect local residents from North Korean threats.

Just yesterday [December 12], the Korea Herald published an editorial reminding that “Seoul should be prepared to deal with North Korea’s provocations.” The editorial said that, considering that Jang has been a powerful figure in the DPRK for nearly 40 years, he is certain to have many followers in the government and military. North Korean authorities would be expected to seek to eradicate the “poisonous weeds” (毒草).

To avoid execution, continued the Herald, some of the targets (of government purges of Jang’s followers) may attempt to flee the country, while others may even resist. This may increase the social and political instability of North Korea. The DPRK could exacerbate tensions on the Korean peninsula, focusing public attention away from what happened inside the DPRK. South Korea’s YTN television quoted analysts, saying that as the internal system continues to stabilize, North Korea is likely to continue its nuclear and missile development.

British Financial Times covered the entire North-East Asian perspective on the 12th as follows, quoting South Korean officials as saying that Pyongyang has deployed attack helicopters and rockets near the disputed maritime boundary, the “Northern Limit Line”. There are fears that North Korea may be considering a fourth nuclear test. A new missile or nuclear test would put China under greater pressure to abandon its policy of providing political protection for North Korea, and will further test China-US relations.

Source: “South Korea Anxious that North-South Tensions Will Rise; Sino-North Korean Border Trade Route is Absolutely Normal” [韩国忧南北紧张升级 中朝边界贸易通道一切正常], Huanqiu Shibao, December 13, 2013. Translation by Emile Dirks and Morgan Potts.

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  1. When the DPRK began recalling its ambassadors with ties to Jang Song-Taek, I wondered whether they had plans to seek asylum where they were or otherwise flee. To learn that perhaps 70 aides and dignitaries have defected is amazing. But if Jang couldn’t pull off two coups in ten years, how could anyone else dare to resist? Who has the strength and support to attempt this, when anyone linked to Jang is fleeing the country?

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