Posted by: rbbadger | June 23, 2009

China is not happy with North Korea

When I went to Beijing, I was very surprised to see displayed on the monitor announcing arrivals and departures, the arrival of the Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang, North Korea.  China is perhaps one of the few places where Air Koryo, the state-owned airline of North Korea, is permitted to land their increasingly ageing set of Soviet-made aircraft.  I’ve wanted to visit the North, but only to Gaeseong or Geumgangsan, trips would involve taking a bus across the DMZ rather than flying on North Korean aircraft. 

Beijing has long been North Korea’s greatest ally.  Had not Chairman Mao sent in the People’s Liberation Army to fight off the Americans and their allies, North Korea might not have survived.  Or, perhaps, the war might not have lasted as long as it did.  Jiang Zemin, former President of the PRC, was often asked why China continued to support North Korea.  More often than not, he spoke of the closeness that the PRC has with the DPRK because of their shared history.

Things have changed greatly now.  South Korea is now one of China’s biggest trading partners.  As in America, many Korean firms have outsourced a great deal of their manufacturing to China.  And while many things from computers, to cars, to cell phones are still made in Korea, the Made in China label is now a very common sight in South Korea as well.  For most of the history of the Republic of Korea, diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China were non-existent.  That abruptly changed in 1992 when South Korea dropped formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan) and transferred them to Beijing.  (Taiwan has an unofficial embassy here, as it does elsewhere around the world, even in the USA.  Their “embassies” and “consulates” are known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices.  The American “embassy” is known as The American Institute in Taipei.)  A lot of trade now happens between Beijing and Seoul.  Beijing has clearly benefitted hugely from South Korean trade.  As China moves cautiously towards a fully convertible currency, they decided that Japan, Korea and Singapore would be ideal places to allow the currency to be openly traded on the market.  I can now walk down to just about any bank here, with the possible exception of Nonghyup, and ask to exchange my Korean won for Chinese yuan renminbi.  You can’t do that in the USA, but you can do it here.

Beijing was not pleased by North Korea’s nuclear tests.  For a country which tightly controls the media and has Communist Party secretaries working for and monitoring the media, they have allowed a great deal of criticism of North Korea, even in the pages of the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party.  In the Global Times, a newspaper focusing on international affairs which is owned by the People’s Daily, there have been some interesting criticisms of North Korea and even some threats.  This first editorial speaks of all the good that the Chinese have done for North Korea and how the feelings of the Chinese have been hurt by failing to take the advice of the Chinese government and by further destabilising the region.  You can read that here.  And threats to cut off energy and food aid to North Korea, two things which North Korea can’t do without, have also been made.  China has been impatient with North Korea for a long time.  Back when Jiang Zemin was still the president, they were begging North Korea to please do something about their economy and maybe pursue the same sort of reforms that China has.  Unfortunately, it seems that North Korea is so entrenched in Stalinist and Maoist thought that there is not a North Korean Deng Xiaoping to be found.  (Deng Xiaoping, who succeeded Chairman Mao as the paramount leader of China, cautiously opened up China to foreign investment.  China’s economy boomed as a result and the country has changed in ways unimaginable thirty years ago.) 

(The links to these stories were obtained from The Marmot’s Hole, a very worthwhile blog focused on Korea.)


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