Has the Teflon Finally Worn Off the Wok?

For well over a decade, the South Korean street and government have let China get away with murder — literally — of North Korean refugees, and South Korean POW’s and their families. Koreans quickly forgot their anger after hundreds of Chinese “students” rioted in downtown Seoul and beat and kicked Korean citizens (but, said the Chinese government that bused the mobs in, they really meant well).

But for once, I’m gratified to see South Koreans sharing my sense of outrage about something: China’s decision to roll out the red carpet for Kim Jong Il not even a week after South Korea buried 40 of the 46 sailors who were probably killed by a deliberate North Korean attack on one of their warships. This time, South Korea’s government has informally protested the Kim Jong Il visit and called in the new Chinese Ambassador for a chat. Is the teflon off the wok at last?

China is the world’s second-largest economy. It must think carefully about the damage to its international image if it continues to sponsor the North Korean regime. After all, North Korea is deeply involved in terrorism, drug and counterfeit money production and kidnapping. It operates scores of concentration camps where horrible human rights abuses take place. Before they meet Kim Jong-il face to face, China’s leaders must think hard whether it is better to prop up his benighted regime or change it. [Chosun Ilbo]

Conventional analysis, via the Korea Times, agrees that for China, it’s still business as usual. China doesn’t really give a damn about the deaths of the Cheonan crew and certainly didn’t give a damn about all those North Korean refugees it sent back to gulag. But aside from more moral pressure that China probably doesn’t care about anyway, no one seems able to imagine how to impose tangible security consequences on China for its behavior. More to follow on that another day.

It isn’t just the timing of this visit. It’s how obscenely ostentatious it all is, beginning with The Little One’s crossing of the border in his personal train, which is described as one rolling episode of Cribs: North Korea. Reporters photographed it as it crossed the border:


[L.A. Times, via A.P.]

Fittingly enough, Kim Jong Il’s ride is a Maybach, a brand whose name hadn’t been heard much in the 50-year interlude after it was best known for making panzerkampfwagen engines:


[photo link]

The Chinese authoritarians went so far as to clean out an entire downtown luxury hotel for Kim Jong Il’s exclusive use. Then there was the arrival of the pleasure squad dance troupe as it changed trains in China:


[Chosun Ilbo]

Presumably, they’re on their way to perform for a banquet to honor the assembled ChiCom and North Korean thugs:

When North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrives in Beijing on Tuesday or Wednesday, he will be treated to a state banquet commemorating the 60th anniversary of China’s participation in the Korean War attended by the host country’s most illustrious officials.

Members of the Communist Party’s politburo line up to greet the visiting leader of North Korea in a tradition that dates back to the days of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. If a summit is difficult to schedule, top Chinese officials at least attend an official banquet in honor of the North Korean leader. [Chosun Ilbo]

One unintended consequence of Kim Jong Il’s high profile — I use the term figuratively, of course — is that video taken of him indicates that his left arm and left leg remain partially paralyzed from his 2008 stroke, as well as a degree of hair loss that fuels rumors that he’s on kidney dialysis … or off his Rogaine.

North Korea’s purpose for this obnoxious display may have been to show that Kim Jong Il is firmly in charge, but the effect is a Chinese-sponsored slap in the face to grieving South Koreans and starving North Koreans. Indeed, it may well be that a secondary purpose of the North Koreans is to create tension between China and South Korea. Here’s hoping that the balloon people will put every one of these pictures on a leaflet and shower them all over the monstrous veal pen The Little One rules.


  1. Well, not really gleeful when anyone gets hurt by it. The sinking of the Chonan is nothing to be gleeful about, but if China had to pick a time to roll out the red carpet for KJI, I’m glad it’s now.

    You know what I mean. 🙁


  2. I don’t get the outrage from South Korea. Both South Korea and the US had known for months that Kim Jong-il was going to visit China, the only question was when. Why should you be surprised that finally he is visiting China? It is not like this came out of nowhere. And why shouldn’t China allow Kim Jong-il to visit China? On what ground? SK has accused the North Koreans of sinking the Cheonan, yet the SK government has not provided a shred of convincing proof showing North Korea was the culprit. The investigation has not completed yet they are pointing fingers at North Korea. What, should China ban Kim Jong-il from visiting China based upon their partial, incomplete investigation which has yet produced any, I mean ANY conclusive evidence and result? And what do they expect China to do? Forbidding Kim Jong-il to visit China? Slapping North Korea in the face publicly? What does that achieve anyway? Painting North Korea into a corner? Have you people thought it through??

    Seriously, Stanton and all those complaining South Koreans out there, what do you expect China to do? Humiliating North Korea? Further isolating the North Koreans? Tell me please, what would that achieve? Will an angry and humiliated North Korea be likely to return to the 6-party talks? Will an angry and humiliated North Korea be more likely to embrace market economy and economic reform that China has been trying to induce? Will an angry and humiliated North Korea be more likely to be more rational and friendlier toward South Korea?

    Kushibo, the Chinese know very well the South Koreans are not their friend.


  3. Chosunmanse, you sound like another clueless teabag who just returned from a Alejandrao Cao de Benos treasure hunt in North Korea. Were you typing the above rubbish whilst wearing your newly purchased KJI tracksuit from the Koryo hotel ?


  4. I think people want to know if there is any red line North Korea can cross that will cause meaningful Chinese policy change, or at least cause Beijing show signs of consideration of the interests of other states in the region, beginning with South Korea. As the patron of the DPRK, China fairly or unfairly gets tarred with some degree of responsibility for North Korean belligerence and misbehavior. Lavishing hospitality on Kim Jong-il and playing down his misdeeds while treating the Dalai Lama like Osama Bin Laden and refusing to talk directly to Taiwan’s elected leadership may work domestically, but internationally it makes China look more politically devious and diabolical than is really the case.

    Few serious observers doubt that North Korea pulled off that torpedo attack; they’re just wondering when South Korea will make the political decision to reveal the evidence and how it will do that. Seoul has chosen to try to make it an international matter rather than an inter-Korean one, to widen the range of options.

    If China had a domestic situation that allowed for independent policy analysis and a real, professional media, there would at least be a wider menu of options on the table and the transparency of a debate that could help outsiders understand Chinese motives and the complexity of their situation.


  5. Juchechosunmanse wrote:

    Kushibo, the Chinese know very well the South Koreans are not their friend.

    How cute. It appears you actually think there’s some sort of symmetry between what you just wrote and the sentence I wrote above.

    South Korea has never invaded PRC territory. South Korea does not prop up an enemy state of the PRC nor coddle that enemy state when it kills Chinese citizens.

    No, China is a bully nation, one driven only by its own interests, operating in a bulldozer-like fashion that, thanks to the economic, ecological, and often political damage it wreaks, earns it no friends in the world. It has business partners — among them its sometime largest investor South Korea, which may one day wake up and realize that its money is better spent helping out India or Vietnam — but it has no friends.

    In some sense, its juggernaut-like nature earns it the same disdain that the United States does among many people throughout the world, but without also bringing with it the fuzzy, touchy-feely goodness of something like, say, democratic representation or individual freedoms that the US tries (anemically in some cases, strongly in others) to push.

    Indeed, the only thing positive about China’s rise — if there really is some there there and it’s not just smoke-and-mirrors and creative bookkeeping to hide embarrassing things until it can no longer be contained, à la SARS — is that they will soon supplant the US as the most hated planet on Earth.


  6. Ernst,

    I wish I could find a place to buy the KJI track suit? Where exactly is Koryo Hotel? Let me know and I will order one.


    Please. South Korea might not prop up the US (it is the other way around), which considers China one of its major enemies, but it is clearly a stooge (or if you prefer “a proud and staunch ally” ) of the US, am I not correct? Why should you and the South Koreans be surprised that China will not ditch its long-time ally for the business partner SK who only cares about making more money off of her (SK has been enjoying trade surplus for the longest time I can remember)? Would you ditch the Americans for the Chinese? You wouldn’t, so why do you expect China to behave differently?

    Please. Name one country that is not driven by its own interests. SK? lol. Yes, there is definitely room for improvement for many elements within Chinese foreign policy and its overseas practices, but until it gets really bossy and tries to preach its values, “models” etc to everyone (“my way or no way”) it has a long way to go to replace the US as the most hated country.

    Kushibo, I am seriously asking this question and I hope to get a straight answer: What did you expect China to do? What would China have done differently that could possibly please you and the self-centered South Koreans? Telling Kim Jong-il: Sorry you little bastard, since the South Koreans believe you sank one of their ships you can’t come”?


  7. I’m just going to call it quits. I was remiss in writing “planet.” I was remiss in thinking that a listener was possibly tagging me as anti-American. And I’m remiss in spending any time at all on blog comments sites when I have so much crap to do I’ve considered lobbying for an extension of the week by three days.

    Say good night Gracey.


  8. South Korea might not prop up the US (it is the other way around), which considers China one of its major enemies, but it is clearly a stooge (or if you prefer “a proud and staunch ally” ) of the US, am I not correct?

    No, you’re not, as usual.

    Why should you and the South Koreans be surprised that China will not ditch its long-time ally for the business partner SK who only cares about making more money off of her (SK has been enjoying trade surplus for the longest time I can remember)?

    Better trade than aid.


  9. Sonagi,

    I saw rifts between the US and some of its European allies, including the UK. I even saw rifts between US and Japan. When was the last time there were rifts or major foreign policy disagreement between the US and SK?


    Yet nobody is able to (yet) come up with an answer. What’s so hard about it?


  10. Kushibo, thats ok man. I figured you would soon realize that I was referring to “planet”. Anyways you made my day when I originally read that, I laughed for about two minutes. And I needed to laugh at that time.


  11. Glad I could keep you entertained, a listener. I’ll make sure you’re within eyeshot the next time I inadvertently type that I’m a naked English speaker.


  12. In an effort to make this less shamelessly off-topic, I’m putting it with a good old fashioned China argument.

    For anyone who’s interested, an international day of action for imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Hu Jia — who is being held without access to necessary medical treatment — is taking place on May 18th. Apologies and thanks.


  13. Naenara has a couple photo albums of Kim Jong-il’s China trip; about 80 photos of Kim!
    Here are the highlights:

    Kim Jong-il has 3 pairs of glasses; his trademark sunglasses, bifocals, and a plain pair:

    Kim Jong-il’s autograph on May 6 in Beijing. The previous photo shows him signing.

    Kim Jong-il sightseeing at a park in Shenyang. (There are no photos at the Great Wall.)

    Kim Jong-il touring in Shenyang, flanked by his top 2 bodyguards behind each shoulder

    Kim Jong-il’s crooked posture is in stark contrast to China’s stiff Vice Premier Li Keqiang

    Kim Jong-il banquet seating arrangements: Chinese host and Dear Leader face each other at the center of the long table