The Lesson of the Collapse of the Soviet Union
The US is a remote country from Asia so that however strong China becomes, it will not hurt US interests. What the US worries about is China’s rise to become its rival superpower or replace it as the only superpower in the world. However, China’s current leader does not seem to have intention to do so. What China wants is to be benefited by its relations with other countries. Acting as US rival or replacing the US as the only superpower will cost China a lot but bring little or even no benefit.
The collapse of the Soviet Union is a very good lesson for Chinese leaders. The Soviet Union has a much smaller economy but has the ambition to be a rival hegemon to the US. Like the US it had to bear the heavy burden of protecting and supporting its subordinate countries. It has given huge aids to Vietnam to enable Vietnam to defeat the US but get no return at all form Vietnam. So were its aids to North Korea and Cuba to enable the communist regimes to survive there.
People wonder why the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed as there seemed no crisis in it to bring it down. However, it is very clear to Chinese leader that the Soviet Union was crushed by its heavy burden to contend with the US given its much inferior economic strength. Anxious to maintain Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s survival, Chinese leaders certainly would not repeat Soviet Union’s disastrous blunder.
Like the Soviet Union’s efforts to spread communism, the US wants to spread its democratic system the world over but has achieved nothing, the democracy it has established in Iraq and Afghanistan are difficult to survive without US military support. The much praised Jasmine revolution for the establishment of democracy has only replaced old autocracy with new autocracy such as the autocratic regime changes in Egypt and even chaos such as the chaos in Libya.
US failure to export its political system makes the Soviet lesson even more convincing.
China simply should not have any intention to export its ideology or political system as China simply cannot benefit from such export. What it should pursue is but win-win cooperation with other countries. Such cooperation will benefit not only China but also its cooperation partners and make China popular among them. Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road initiative now precisely aims at that.
However the experience of Western colonialism and the two world wars tells other countries that a rising power usually bullies other countries and even tries to conquer other countries and turn them into its colonies. Can China be an exception?
China is a country with its own long history and the dominance of Confucianism characterized by benevolence, harmony and the doctrine of the mean quite different from the predatory Western colonialism. Therefore, China simply has a culture different from Western culture instead of being an exception of Western culture.
Westerners and those who have suffered from Western colonialism are scared of China’s rise because they do no understand Chinese culture so that they see China from a Western instead of Chinese perspective.
The Attempt to Set a North Korea Model
To convince other countries and remove their worries, China wanted to set a North Korea model of win-win cooperation. If it had succeeded in setting up the model, it might use the model to build an Asia community.
At the time when Kim Jong-un succeeded his father Kim Jong-il, China was at a turning point. For further economic growth to realize its dream to become too strong to be bullied by other countries, it needed a huge market, lots of natural resources and cheep labor. In order to greatly expand its domestic market, it had just established nationwide life and medical insurance safety nets and was building millions of subsidized housing units in order to make its people save less and spend more. In addition, it plans to speed up urbanization and substantially increase workers’ income.
When labor became expensive, however, lots of China’s labor-intensive enterprises would be in trouble. They had to move to poor countries where there was a shortage of investment and lots of cheap labor. North Korea was precisely one of such countries.
China had been trying to export its Chinese model to North Korea for quite a long time. During his visit to North Korea in 2005, Chinese leader Hu Jintao spoke about the problems China had at a banquet Kim Jong-un’s Kim Jong-il gave in his honor. That was a clear sign that China was unwilling to give substantial aids free of charge. Obviously, Chinese aids have to be mutually beneficial. By reducing Chinese aids, Hu tried to make North Korea follow Chinese model to make North Korea prosperous.
If North Korea followed China’s example, it would establish Sino-North Korean joint ventures for China to utilize the natural resources and cheap labor there. There were prospects that North Korea would export lots of inexpensive goods to China. That would make North Korea rich and greatly improve its people’s living standards. North Korea would in turn become a growing market for Chinese exports. North Korea’s Kim Dynasty, if followed the Chinese model, would become popular. That seemed the only way out for Kim Jong-un to maintain the survival of his dynasty.
The transformation of North Korea from poverty to prosperity would set a North Korean model that would be eagerly followed by China’s other neighbors. Then the vast and populous underdeveloped Asia will become sources of natural resources and cheap labor for China and a growing market for China while China will offer its huge market for those neighboring countries.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
As far back as in January 2012, China gave me the impression that it tried to build a pan-Asia community, which I called “China’s Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere in my post “CHINA’S GREATER ASIA CO-PROSPERITY SPHERE” on January 29, 2012. I used the term similar to Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere to make it easy to understand but failed to make clear distinction of China’s from Japan’s.
Japan’s was a term to beautify its aggression that had brought no co-prosperity but misery in the so called co-prosperity sphere but China’s is a true co-prosperity sphere that will enable China and the countries within the sphere to prosper through win-win cooperation. Anyway, to avoid confusion, I had better not use such a term; therefore, I no longer use the term later.
China was at a turning point by that time. For further economic growth to realize its dream to become too strong to be bullied by other countries, it needed a huge market, lots of natural resources and cheep labor. In order to greatly expand its domestic market, it has just established nationwide life and medical insurance safety nets and was building millions of subsidized housing in order to make its people save less and spend more. In addition, it plans to speed up urbanization and substantially increase workers’ income.
However, when labor became expensive, lots of China’s labor-intensive factories would be in trouble. They had to move to poor countries where there was a shortage of investment and lots of cheap labor. North Korea was precisely one of such countries.
China has been trying to export its Chinese model to North Korea for quite a long time. During his visit of North Korea in 2005, Chinese leader Hu Jintao spoke about the problems China had at a banquet Kim Jong-il gave in his honor. That was a clear sign that China was unwilling to give substantial aids free of charge. Obviously, Chinese aids have to be mutually beneficial. By reducing Chinese aids, Hu tried to make North Korea follow Chinese model to make North Korea prosperous.
If North Korea follows China’s example, it would establish Sino-North Korean joint ventures for China to utilize the natural resources and cheap labor there. There were prospects that North Korea would export lots of goods to China. That would make North Korea rich and greatly improve its people’s living standards. North Korea would in turn become a growing market for Chinese exports. North Korea’s Kim Dynasty, if followed the Chinese model, would become popular. That seemed the only way out for Kim Jong-un to maintain the survival of his dynasty.
The transformation of North Korea from poverty to prosperity would set a North Korean model that would be eagerly followed by China’s other neighbors. Then the vast and populous Asia will become sources of natural resources and cheap labor for China and a growing market for China while China will offer its huge market for those neighboring countries.
When I wrote the post in 2012, Kim Jong-il, the second generation monarch of North Korea’s Kim Dynasty, had visited China and decided to follow the Chinese model, but he soon died so that he had not really started the reform and opening up similar to China’s.
When his successor Kim Jong-un had just taken over, there was North Korean official news agency’s report that urges party organizations to prove their loyalty to Kim Jong-un by resolving the “burning” food problem. In addition, knowing well Kim Dynasty’s predicament, the regime’s three official newspapers’ joint New Year editorial even urges “the whole party, the entire army and all the people” to “become human bulwarks and human shields in defending Kim Jong-un.” Obviously, the Kim regime knew well that it would collapse if it failed to put an end to the famine and improve people’s livelihood.
Not long after Kim Jong-un took over, his brother Kim Jong-nam, the prince who has failed to succeed to the throne, predicted his brother Kim Jong-un’s failure to maintain Kim Dynasty’s survival. Knowing well the dire situation in North Korea, Kim Jong-nam believed that King Jong-un lacked the experience to fulfill the Herculean task of resolving the food problem and improving people’s living standards.
China’s experience, however, proves that it is very easy to resolve the food problem. Put an end to collective farming and divide farmland to farmers, there will soon be lots of food and other agricultural products to satisfy people’s needs.
However, it is very difficult for a communist country to switch to the capitalist road. In spite of Deng Xiaoping’s dominant power as China’s paramount leader, his reform and opening up, capitalist in nature, encountered serious resistance from communist conservatives. There were fierce debates between conservatives and reformists about the nature of the reform and opening up. i.e. whether the reform and opening up are socialist or capitalist in nature.
Deng certainly knew that his reform and opening up was capitalist in nature so that it was impossible for the reformists to convince the conservatives that they were socialist in nature; therefore, Deng resorted to the trick of delay. He told conservatives to wait for the results of his reform and opening up and believed that the satisfactory results would convince the conservatives.
However, the conservatives would not wait. They continued to attack the reform and succeeded in bringing down Hu Yaobang, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in charge of the reform at that time.
Hu’s successor Zhao Ziyang upset the conservatives by closing conservatives’ mouthpieces such as the prestigious Hongqi magazine in order to silence their attack against the reform and opening up. Powerful conservative elders were very much upset and tried hard to force Deng to remove Zhao as CCP General Secretary. As a result, Deng even wanted to make Zhao replace him as Chairman of the Central Military Commission to enable Zhao to have the supreme power to deal with the conservatives.
However, Zhao, as an experienced communist official, knew well in an oriental communist autocracy like China, the power did not lie in an official’s title. As CCP top official the general secretary, Zhao had no power while major CCP elders, though retired, remained very powerful. Soon the Tiananmen Incident provided the conservatives with the opportunity to remove Zhao and almost stopped the reform and opening up.
It was not until three years after the Incident that Deng used his dominant power as the paramount leader to restore the reform by his well-known Southern Tour. Later, Deng’s successors Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji convinced the conservatives with their achievements of Deng’s reform and developed the Three Represents to justify the pursuit of capitalism with Marxist theory. They have thus put an end to the debates but conservatism remains quite popular as proved by Bo Xilai’s Sing Red Campaign.
Kim Jong-un promised to enable his people to have enough food when he took over. As mentioned above, he was certainly able to achieve that if like China he put an end to his country’s collective farming and divided farmland to farmers. However, he could not carry through the reform due to conservatives’ serious resistance. Collective farming is regarded as a major factor of socialism while individual farming is regarded as capitalism. Kim as the leader of a socialist country should not pursue capitalism, conservatives argued.
In the industrial sector, China has set up quite a few joint ventures with North Korea, but Chinese joint venture partners were unable to manage their joint ventures the Chinese way due to the obstacles set by conservative North Korean officials.
If Kim Jong-un’s father Kim Jong-il had been alive, he would perhaps have been able to make North Korea follow Chinese model of reform and opening up as he had established sound powerbase to enable him to do so. Kim Jong-un, however, did not have enough time to establish a powerbase strong enough to overcome conservatives’ resistance.
Seeing that conservatives are much stronger than reformists in North Korea, Kim Jong-un switched to conservatives’ side to have their support for his Kim Dynasty. He killed and removed quite a few high-ranking pro-Beijing officials to please the conservatives but has thus upset China.
Kim was very clear that without reform he could not feed Korean people in order to win popular support for his Kim Dynasty. He was shrewd to focus on development of nuclear weapons and ICBMs to upset the US and make the US impose stringent sanctions on North Korea so that he could put the blame of food shortage, etc. on US sanctions.
He further upset China in doing so as China wants good relations with the US (I will explain the reasons in my later posts). China has reduced its aids to Kim to the minimum, but it had to provide North Korea with food and other necessities so that North Koreans would not flee into China in large number for their survival.
China has a long border with North Korea difficult to guard in winter when border rivers are frozen.
In fact, North Korea’s nuclear weapons are also a threat to China; therefore, Kim is now doing what China opposes.
Having entirely lost hope in North Korea, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched his Silk Road economic belt and 21st century maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road) initiative for the establishment of a pan-Asian community without North Korea.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
Kenji Fujimoto was accepted into Kim Jong-il’s inner circle during a 13-year stint serving North Korea’s first family. The Japanese sushi chef gives Julian Ryall his take on the communist dynasty’s latest leader
From the outside, the key players in North Korea can seem like characters in an improbable science-fiction movie. The arch villain lives in a sumptuous palace and his scientists have built a nuclear weapon; his scowling henchmen wear outsized hats and too many medals; and the state-run media employs colourful hyperbole as it threatens to reduce the cities of its enemies to “seas of fire”.
Behind the scenes, however, the life of the ruling family of the world’s most isolated and unfathomable nation is closer to being like a soap opera, according to Kenji Fujimoto, a man who has been admitted into the inner circle. The tale he tells is one of sibling rivalries, adulation for Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acting skills and hippo steaks.
Fujimoto – who served as the late Kim Jong-il’s personal chef between 1988 and 2001 – is arguably the most authoritative source outside of the country on the antics of the ruling Kim family and what goes on behind the closed doors of their Pyongyang palaces.
Shortly after he fled North Korea and returned to Japan, where he remains, fearful for his life and unwilling to reveal where he lives, Fujimoto was criticised for tales he told in his 2003 memoir, I was Kim Jong-il’s Cook, on the grounds that they were just too tall, too fanciful.
But Fujimoto – a pseudonym – was welcomed back to North Korea by Kim Jong-un in July last year and was not punished by the new leader for what he had written. His credibility had already risen after he correctly predicted Jong-un would be selected to take over from Jong-il, his father, who died in December 2011, in preference to his older half-brother, Kim Jong-nam.
Furthermore, when talking with Fujimoto face to face, his anecdotes have a ring of truth about them, not least the one about the time he nearly killed Kim Jong-il and his extended family in a boating accident.
“Kim gave me a motor yacht back in the mid-1990s and I guess it must still be moored in Wonsan,” says Fujimoto, dressed in a checked jacket, dark glasses and his trademark black bandana. “He had challenged me and another one of his circle to a race aboard two motor yachts and the winner would get to keep the boat.
“Kim was sitting on a chair on the pier at Wonsan, watching the race, and I won.
“Some time later, I had Kim and all his family on board and I took them for a cruise off the port there. We were having dinner and enjoying ourselves, but the wind began to pick up and the waves were getting bigger and Kim asked me if I thought it was still OK to be out on the ocean because it was becoming so rough.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I told him there was a big keel beneath the hull that would stop us tipping over and that we would be fine. Kim’s family were in the cabin below and they were safe, but the wind kept getting stronger, so I decided that we should go back to the port, just to be on the safe side.”
Demonstrating his amateurish grasp of boats, Fujimoto swung the wheel sharply to port.
“The boat tilted a long way over,” he says, gesticulating to illustrate just how far. “And the water on that side was above the level of the windows in the cabin below. All the children and Kim’s wife were screaming. It was terrifying, but I managed to right it again.”
Fujimoto says a number of patrol vessels were shadowing the family cruise and would have probably saved them if the boat had capsized; but it could still have ended in tragedy.
Kim Jong-un was among those onboard, he says, adding that the thing he remembers most about the future head of state, then aged 11, was that he carried a Colt 45 pistol strapped to his belt.
“I first met Kim Jong-un in January 1990, when he was seven years old,” Fujimoto recalls. “I will never forget the look he had, the stare of those strong eyes. That is something that is imprinted in my memory.”
Jong-un and older brother Jong-chul were introduced to Fujimoto at a banquet for senior military officers and other officials, he says, describing the two boys as being dressed in miniature army uniforms and snapping to attention as soon as they saw their father.
“To me, it was a strange image to see young children do something like that,” he says, with a shake of his head.
A SUSHI CHEF BYPROFESSION, Fujimoto first visited North Korea in September 1982. He was working in a Japanese restaurant in Pyongyang when, one morning, the manager told him to prepare the ingredients and equipment needed for a banquet for about 30 people later in the day. At 2pm, he recalls, three Mercedes limousines pulled up in front of the restaurant and he was ushered inside one of them.
After a two-hour drive, Fujimoto emerged outside a huge building resembling a palace, set on a wooded hillside overlooking the sea. He was led to a vast ballroom and told to start preparing the meal. Fujimoto draws a sketch of tables laid out in an open-ended rectangle and indicates the position where he was to prepare the sushi. He was ready at 8pm but the 20 revellers did not arrive until 2.30am.
“It was a wedding anniversary celebration for one of the senior military officers and they had been having a party on a boat off the coast,” he says. “By the time they got back, they were hungry again. But when the door opened, and all I could see were military uniforms in front of me, my feet stopped working. I couldn’t walk.
“I felt that if I did something wrong, even a little thing, they might shoot me.”
As the evening wore on, 10 Thai women were summoned and the officers each chose one to sit by their side and pour their drinks, light their cigarettes and make sure they wanted for nothing.
“They had, of course, been kidnapped,” says Fujimoto, of the women.
The only person not in a uniform showed a deep interest in Fujimoto’s work, asking through an interpreter the name of each fish he was preparing. It was only the following day, when he saw a photograph of the same man on the front page of a newspaper, that he realised he had been speaking to Kim Jong-il.
There is a saying in Japanese that roughly translates as “two people who are fated to be together are drawn to each other by a red string attached to their little fingers”. And so it was with Fujimoto and Kim.
In 1988, Fujimoto became Kim’s chef, on a salary of about seven million yen a year (about HK$550,000, using the current exchange rate), although he says he only entered a kitchen to work for his boss once or twice a week.
“I was his playmate rather than his employee,” he says. “I was treated as an honoured guest and I spent most of my time eating and talking with senior North Korean officials.”
One of the dishes Kim most enjoyed was grilled eel, says Fujimoto. He also enjoyed puffer fish with platters of cold vegetables, but there were times when the dictator wanted a bit of variety in his diet.
“There were quite a few strange meal requests,” Fujimoto says. “Kim once asked me to cook a snake for him, but I couldn’t do that because I’m a sushi chef. In the end, they got someone else to make that for him. Another time, he decided he wanted hippopotamus.” Quite where it came from at short notice is a mystery but “it was very good and tasted like chicken”.
On another occasion, Kim decided he wanted to eat spiders, although Fujimoto says he didn’t wait around while that particular dish was being prepared and served.
Kim had a prodigious appetite for both food and drink. Fujimoto draws a plan of a circular room – bottle racks lining the outside walls; a table with chairs and a grand piano in the middle – that served as Kim’s party space.
“There were 10,000 bottles, maybe more,” Fujimoto says. “One day he asked me to fetch something that was not in the collection. He wanted the Suntory Imperial whisky, a really good one that sells for about 16,000 yen a bottle. When I went back and told him that I couldn’t find one, he just told me to bring him one back when I went to Japan next time.”
As ordered to, Fujimoto returned with a bottle of the whisky and poured it for the leader, who pronounced it to be “fabulous!”
Kim was a connoisseur of Bordeaux wines, too, and, towards the end of an evening of carousing, he would swill XO cognac around a glass.
Kim’s busy schedule of banquets and preoccupation with developing nuclear weapons – and missile systems to deliver them – inevitably meant he did not spend a great deal of time with his children. When his family travelled overseas for holidays – Europe and Southeast Asia were apparently favourite destinations – Kim Jong-il stayed home to concentrate on affairs of state. He also did not like flying, which drastically limited his holiday options.
“I would not say that Kim Jong-un was necessarily spoiled, but his mother was not very strict about his education and he was not forced to study hard or get a good education,” Fujimoto says. “He does not have to understand English or any other languages because they will always have a translator with them in those situations.”
When the future ruler was seven years old, he had his own Mercedes, with the seat and pedals specially adapted so he could drive around the grounds of the palaces. Recalling sitting in the passenger seat as the little boy took the car for a spin, Fujimoto says he was “a very good driver”.
He also helped Jong-un make stilts and the boy practised regularly until he was able to walk comfortably on the metre-high leg extensions.
The youngster had a bit of a temper, too, says the chef. One day Jong-chul gave him bad advice when they were playing a board game and Jong-un lost.
“He looked up at Jong-chul’s face with an angry expression and suddenly threw a marble at him. He was around eight years old then, and Jong-chul was not hurt because he was quick enough to move, but …”
By 2000, Jong-un, then a teenager, had developed an interest in action movies.
“He really liked Hollywood films and he’s always happy to see anything like that,” Fujimoto says. “He especially likes Jean-Claude Van Damme; he told me that his acting is ‘awesome’. And when he saw a shot with Van Damme without his shirt on, Kim said he wanted to have muscles like that.
“So he started buying fitness equipment and taking protein supplements. And, when I saw him last year, I have to say that his muscles had developed.”
By 2001, Fujimoto had thoughts about returning to Japan but feared his long-term host would be angered by any suggestion that he wanted to leave. Ultimately though, a growing sense of being spied on was behind his decision to flee. Fujimoto told Kim Jong-il that he wanted to collect some top-quality sea urchin from Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. Leaving his North Korean wife and daughter in Pyongyang, the chef arrived in Japan and went into hiding.
Following the death of Kim Jong-il, Fujimoto reached out to his son and heir in an effort to lift what he considers a genuine threat to his life.
“The first thing I have to say is that I did not expect such a wonderfully warm welcome, such a gracious greeting from Kim [Jong-un],” says Fujimoto of his return to Pyongyang last year. “When we first met, we shook hands and hugged each other before we went in for the banquet.
“When we sat down, he leaned over and said to me, ‘Mr Fujimoto, we have forgotten all about your betrayal. It is all over now. Thank you for coming and you are always welcome to come to the republic.'”
Fujimoto says he was so overcome that he barely touched his shark fin soup because he was crying so much.
“At the end of the evening, my handkerchief was sopping wet.”
He doesn’t say what kind of reception he received from his own wife and daughter.
There had been some noticeable changes in Pyongyang in the years he had been away, Fujimoto says, with more food – including ice cream – now available in stores. And despite the recent tensions with the rest of the world, Fujimoto believes Kim Jong-un has no intention of going to war.
“He is just trying to get the United States to sit down at the same table, to negotiate with them and maybe get some concessions from them,” he says. “If North Korea went to war with the US, I believe the longest it could hold out for would be maybe one week; it might only last three days.
“I told Kim Jong-un that he should switch the direction of the republic, that it’s not too late,” he says. “I asked him to never launch another missile; I told him to be careful.”
Young and inexperienced, Kim is surrounded by military and political leaders, each with their own agenda and each vying for his ear. Might it be possible that a Japanese chef who once taught him how to use stilts has the best chance of talking the supreme leader out of making a potentially fatal geopolitical error?
Source: SCMP’s Post Magazine “What the cook saw”
“While the dropping flowers pine for love, the heartless brook babbles on.” It is a well-known Chinese saying that was often used in Chinese old fictions when describing the failure of a lovely girl in pursuing a heartless boy.
In my post “CHINA’S GREATER ASIA CO-PROSPERITY SPHERE” January 29, 2012 at https://tiananmenstremendousachievements.wordpress.com, I said that China wants to set a North Korea model as an example of the benefit in cooperation with China in order to establish a greater Asia co-prosperity sphere centered on China.
Kim Jong-un, the young North Korean leader who has received his education in the West, thinks that relying on the US must be a better alternative. His bellicose rhetoric now is but aimed at having direct talks with the US, but “while the dropping flowers pine for love, the heartless brook babbles on.” The US seems to have no interest whatever in having North Korea as its dependency.
China, however, earnestly wants to set a North Korean model by helping it become prosperous, but its love seems also unrequited as described in the above-mentioned Chinese saying.
Reuters gives a vivid description of the so far unrequited love in its article titled “Insight: China’s freeway to North Korea: A road to nowhere”:
A new stretch of China’s G12 expressway arcs toward the northernmost tip of North Korea, connecting one of the world’s most vibrant economies to probably its most stagnant. It is a symbol of China’s long-term goal of building economic ties with its unpredictable neighbor.
But the thin traffic along a highway lined with fallow fields in China’s Jilin province, two years after it was finished, shows how far there is to go and why plans for high-speed rail links to Chinese cities along the border look misplaced.
The problem for Beijing is twofold: getting Pyongyang to buy into the idea of economic reform and the reluctance of Chinese businessmen to venture into one of the world’s riskiest investment destinations.
While China is frustrated with Pyongyang over its threats to wage war on South Korea and the United States, its efforts to build economic links with North Korea from places like Jilin help explain why Beijing is unlikely to crack down hard on the reclusive state.
Since then-Premier Wen Jiabao went to North Korea in 2009 – just months after Pyongyang’s second nuclear test – China has sought to stabilize the Korean peninsula by stepping up its effort to steer the North toward economic reform. China is not about to give up that goal even though it’s under U.S. pressure to get tough after North Korea’s third nuclear test, on February 12.
“It’s not even shepherding anymore. It’s more of just inundating North Korea with all of these influences from the Chinese side where the idea is to essentially corrupt them, show them what it tastes like to make money,” said John Park, a North Korea expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Harvard Kennedy School.
WEN’S VISIT A CATALYST
Chinese investment in North Korea was paltry before Wen’s visit, according to researchers.
Recent statistics are hard to find, but his trip breathed life into two economic zones: one at Rason, 50 km (30 miles) inside the North Korean border, opposite Jilin, and the other near the Chinese city of Dandong, further south in Liaoning province. Some factories and farms are operational in Rason. The zone near Dandong is still being built.
Wen’s trip opened the door to mining deals and allowed China to help expand the small port at the North Korean city of Rajin, the northernmost ice-free port in the region. His visit also paved the way for more North Korean state trading firms to do business in China, Park said.
Annual two-way trade is estimated at around $6 billion, making China the North’s biggest trade partner.
After Wen’s trip, then North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited China three times before his death in December 2011. Among the places he saw was a flat-screen TV maker, an industrialized farm and a high-tech research and development center. Current ruler Kim Jong-un, the elder Kim’s son, has not visited China since taking power.
But doing business with North Korea is frustrating, even for those in Jilin’s ethnic Korean prefecture of Yanbian, where many residents speak Korean and have links to the North.
The owner of a car company in Yanji, the region’s main city, would love to see truckloads of his vehicles head along the G12 and into North Korea. In an advertisement, the firm is billed almost exclusively as an exporter, but the reality is different.
“Most of our business is in China now,” said the company owner, who declined to be identified because he was concerned it would make it even harder to work with North Korea.
The manager of a Yanji Korean trade association who sells food packaging bags to North Korea also said it was difficult.
“We are doing less and less business with them now,” he said.
While China has halted some overland tourism into North Korea in the wake of the recent tensions, businessmen in Yanbian said most curbs came from North Korea.
“Their demands are higher and higher. Visas are difficult to get, crossing the border is difficult and they limit the things that can go across,” said the trade association manager, who also declined to be identified.
Some Chinese firms were also starting to lose confidence in investing in the Rason zone, said an official at the Jilin government who had knowledge of the matter. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said last year the zone would get $3 billion in investment from Beijing.
JILIN’S KOREAN SPEAKERS WORK IN SOUTH KOREA, NOT NORTH
While decades of market reforms sparked an economic boom in China’s coastal regions, the dismantling of many state firms as part of those measures took a toll on northeastern provinces such as Jilin and Liaoning.
China has embarked on a program to revitalize its rustbelt northeast, but some economists say a turnaround will partly rely on when Jilin and Liaoning can tap the potential mineral wealth and cheap labor of North Korea.
That, in turn, depends on Pyongyang.
“For the relatively impoverished North Korean government, China’s northeasterly drive ought to represent a golden opportunity,” Adam Cathcart and Christopher Green, editors of SinoNK.com, a website that specializes in ties between North Korea and China, wrote in an article this month.
“However, the response to date has been a complex mix of enthusiasm, investment and retrenchment, fear, and paranoia, abject confusion and even a certain strategic ambivalence.”
China shares a 1,400 km (870 mile) border with North Korea, roughly two-thirds of which belongs to Jilin. More than a million ethnic Koreans live in the province. The government hopes they can one day act as a bridge with North Korea but has instead exported Korean-speaking labor to work in South Korean factories since the early 1990s.
Jilin accounts for 28 percent of Chinese investment in the North, with 34 percent from Liaoning.
Experts say one of Beijing’s top objectives in hosting Kim Jong-il multiple times from 2000 to the time he died was clear: to showcase the fruits of China’s economic reforms.
Indeed, a source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters last July that the North was gearing up to experiment with agricultural and economic reforms. However, nothing was announced and then North Korea conducted a long-range missile test in December and its third nuclear test in February, prompting fresh U.N. sanctions.
A pro-Pyongyang newspaper last week said North Korea, which has suffered chronic food shortages, had a surge in agricultural production due to a new pay-based incentive system for farmers last year.
The World Food Programme, which has an office in Pyongyang, said it was not aware of any changes in agricultural policy.
LUXURY CARS AND FANCY WATCHES
Across the border, it’s hard to gauge the impact of deepened economic ties with China.
A child nutrition survey in 2012 carried out by North Korea with U.N. assistance showed results in North Hamgyong province, which abuts Jilin, that appeared better in some cases than in South Hamgyong, next to Pyongyang. The usual assumption is that North Koreans live better the closer they are to Pyongyang.
Marcus Noland, senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, said that might suggest an impact from increased interaction with China. There was also talk of a building boom in Chongjin, North Hamgyong’s capital and the country’s third biggest city, he said.
“The economic integration with China is proceeding,” said Noland, an expert on North Korea’s economy.
“If it really appears that the Chinese are having an impact up in North Hamgyong I think that will probably spur some sort of internal debate, though probably not a very public one, about what should North Korea’s relationship to China be.”
One recent Chinese visitor who has done business in Chongjin said well-connected North Koreans preferred to ride in Mercedes Benz cars, wore fancy watches and spent hundreds of dollars on mobile phone bills each month.
Park said the North Korean elite were finding ways to tap into China’s economic might.
“If you look at the most senior members of the North Korean regime they are really engaged in business and commerce. You have a situation where, in a way, the elites in North Korea are now trying to leverage their positions of power to monetize them,” he said.
END OF THE ROAD
After the Chinese border city of Hunchun, the four-lane G12 expressway narrows into a smaller road leading to the Quanhe border crossing.
On the other side of the Tumen River that divides the two countries, the dirt road from the Rason economic zone to China was finally paved last summer. Chinese state media called it a big step in Rason’s development.
Jin Qiangyi, director of the Center for North and South Korean Studies at Yanbian University, said he believed the two-lane rural road was originally slated to be a highway. Its downgrade reflected uncertainty about the ability of companies to transport enough cargo to make it economical.
“From the economic angle I don’t think there are many people very enthusiastically investing in North Korea. There’s too much risk,” said Jin.
Still, China’s leaders have little choice but to stick with the economic integration strategy, Jin said, even as North Korea pushes up tensions on the Korean peninsula to their highest in decades.
Work is even under way on multi-billion dollar projects to extend bullet train lines to Dandong and Hunchun. The Dandong link is slated for completion in 2015.
“You can’t say they’ve failed yet,” Jin said. “But they haven’t succeeded.”
Source: Reuters “Insight: China’s freeway to North Korea: A road to nowhere”
SCMP carries Agence France-Presse report from Seoul: “North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for a ‘radical turnaround’ in the impoverished country’s economy in a rare New Year’s address that also appeared to offer an olive branch to South Korea.
“Kim’s speech, broadcast on state television yesterday, was the first of its kind for 19 years, since the death of his grandfather and the North’s founding president, Kim Il-sung.
Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, almost never managed to deliver any direct verbal address to his people.”
“Kim praised the success of the North’s space scientists in launching a long-range rocket last month.
“He said a similar national effort was now required on the economic front.
“‘The entire party, the whole country and all the people should wage an all-out struggle this year to effect a turnaround in building an economic giant and improving the people’s standard of living,’ he said.”
For details, please visit SCMP website at:
- A DYNASTY ON THE VERGE OF COLLAPSE dated January 29, 2012
- Ignore North Korea’s Bluffing and Treat It with Contempt dated February 21, 2012
- Tremendous changes in North Korea dated July 4, 2012
- Top conservative removed by Kim in power struggle dated July 17, 2012
Power struggle in a communist regime is always bloody since Stalin set example of his bloody persecution of millions of people.
Mao enjoyed mental tortures rather than physical ones. Still his Red Guards preferred violence and Mao never tried to stop their violence.
Now it is North Korean despot Kim Jong-un’s turn.
Singtao Daily says according to South Korean intelligence, North Korean young new leader Kim Jong-un has given order to conduct a bloody purge among North Korean high officials. One of them, a North Korean deputy minister was executed when he was found drunk in the period of mourning for the deceased leader Kim Jong-il.
According to a South Korean parliament member who has access to intelligence, over the past 2 years, in all 31 North Korean high officials, including 12 generals, have been purged. Some of the generals were shot; others were expelled from the troops. There crimes were excessive drinking and offenses against decency.
Shall people be executed for the minor offenses of excessive drinking and offenses against decency? A despot can punish people at will. There is indeed no rule to go by.
A similar report can be found in United Kingdom’s Times at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/asia/article3577840.ece
In my post at the beginning of this year, I described the lack of loyalty to Kim Dynasty reflected in Korea media’s New Year editorials. I pointed out that the Kim Dynasty would collapse if the new leader failed to carry out a reform to feed his people and improve their living standards.
The development in the past 6 months proved precisely that.
Hong Kong’s Ming Pao says in its exclusive report entitled “Follow a Populist Line and Seek Reform in the 6 Months after Rising to Power” that six months after Kim Jong Un came to power, North Korean political situation has been in the main stable. There was a draught recently, but according to figures recently released by South Korean Central Bank, there was a rare economic growth of 0.8% last year due to a bumper harvest and the stimulus of a series of construction though North Korean per capita GDP amounts only to US$1,200 and its economy is only 3% of that of South Korea’s. As North Korea does not publish any official data, South Korean official estimate shall be regarded as authoritative.
Yang Xiyu, research fellow of China’s International Issue Research Institute points out: In the 6 months under Kim Jong Un’s rule, Kim roughly carried out a smooth takeover of power. Though he sticks to North Korea’s political line of giving priority to the military and adopts an even more hard-line attitude toward South Korean government, his personal style differs greatly from his father Kin Jong Il. He has put an end to previous mythical way and displayed a true North Korea to the world. Domestically, he has made high-profile display of his populism. In addition to giving personal replies to letters from the people, he twice gave public speeches, which were rare in North Korea. He times and again joined the grass root in their life, making inspection tours to butcher’s shopts, kindergartens and theme parks.
Wang Yizhou, deputy head of Peking University’s International Relations College says that compared to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un has stronger affinity. He attaches greater importance to people’s livelihood perhaps because he has studied abroad.
Recently, North Korean media say that Kim Jong Un has given instruction to establish an “Economic Reform Group” to regard agriculture as the priority in his reform. He gives consideration to adopting China’ previous household responsibility pattern in agriculture.
I pointed out in my previous posts that North Korea might resolve its food problem within three years if it adopts China’s decollectivization model because China overcame its food shortage within 3 years precisely because of its household responsibility decollectivization reform decades ago. I said that if North Korea learns from China to become rich with Chinese aids, China will set a North Korean model to be copied by other Asian and African countries. China’s closer economic relations and cooperation with a large number of Asian countries will result in the de-facto establishment of a greater Asia co-prosperity sphere centered on China.
Some people are afraid that China will be a military threat when it becomes even stronger. However, China can obtain what it needs by peaceful means. Why shall it resort to war? China will remain peace-loving if its leaders remain wise enough to see that. However if a bellicose Chinese leader like Mao emerges and wants to impose Chinese ways on other nations, not only China but the world will be in trouble.
While China is expanding abroad, US president wants to bring jobs back to America. American businessmen are wise. They know they have to exploit cheap labor abroad to make money. The wealth they have created abroad no doubt belongs to the US. General Motors, McDonald’s, Coke Cola, Pepsi, P & G, etc. are now make big money in China. When Chinese labor has become expensive, they shall go to other countries to exploit the cheaper labor there. Instead, their stupid politicians want them to use America’s expensive labor.
The politicians claim that technological progress makes it viable to use expensive American labor. However, improvement in education and training in other countries make it also viable to use much cheaper labor there. Businessmen have to make decisions out of economic instead of political consideration. Do US politicians lack such common sense? Or is it merely a trick to win votes in the presidential election?
Some may say it is impossible for the US to enter North Korea due to its enmity to the US. In fact, it is the US who is dogmatic and stubborn. Nixon is praised for the breakthrough in Sino-US relations. In fact Nixon was passive. It was Mao who took the initiative. Mao tried to pass his message of detente through Snow and Romanian president Nicolae Ceauşescu, but Nixon took no action until Mao’s ping-pong diplomacy.
Now, Kim Jong Un is reducing his enmity against the US. Ming Pao reports today that in the debut of an ensemble organized by Kim Jong Un, lots of well-known Disney characters appeared on the stage against the background of a huge screen showing clips of Disney cartoons. Due to the enmity of Kim Jong Un’s predecessors against the US, such characters were previously banned in North Korea.
North Korean labor is very cheap and it is so thirsty for foreign investment that it even offers a beautiful bride for investment of US$60,000. Will the US take the opportunity to play its role in North Korea? I don’t know. Cuba is also carrying out a reform, but the US does not seem to have a desire to play a role there. Recently, Cuban leader has to go a long way to China to seek aids. Cuba is so close to the US and Latin America is US backyard. Yet the US ignores it, let alone North Korea. It is so far away. Let China take it.
Economically, China is advancing while the US is retreating. Militarily, the US is returning to Asia. Can military superiority be maintained without economic superiority?
Related post at https://tiananmenstremendousachievements.wordpress.com:
Tremendous changes in North Korea dated July 4
US$60,000 for a beautiful North Korean bride dated June 15
Ignore North Korean Bluffing and Treat It with Contempt dated February 21
North Korea Changing Course dated January 29
A Dynasty on the Verge of Collapse dated January 29