China not sounding so happy about N. Korean purge (Update: Park warns of “reign of terror,” unstable relations)

[If you haven’t read yesterday’s post on the purge in Pyongyang, start there.]

China has summoned Kim Jong Un to Beijing “as soon as possible” to kowtow and offer tribute discuss what Yonhap describes as “the North’s long-term stability and bilateral relations.” China seems displeased with Jang’s ouster, and in case that message was too subtle, China also staged a 5,000-man night landing exercise on the Yellow Sea coast near North Korea (ht: Adam Cathcart).

Kim Jong Un now faces a dilemma. If he goes to Beijing now, Bruce Klingner and Barbara Demick must be right, and Kim Jong Un must feel confident enough to go abroad. If not, he must feel insecure enough about his position that he’s willing to risk offending his paymasters.

Because North Korea’s Ambassador in Beijing is said to be tainted by his own associations with Jang, Kim Jong Un probably wouldn’t have trusted him enough to let him warn the Chinese about the purge. Jang probably tried to influence as many North Koreans in Beijing as possible in the belief that this would warn him of, or shield him from, any plots. If so, China may feel especially isolated from events in Pyongyang right now.

China could be displeased with Kim Jong Un for several reasons. It may claim a veto power over major decisions in Pyongyang. It may also worry that its own economic interests in North Korea are at risk, and not without reason. When KCNA denounced Jang for “selling off precious resources of the country at cheap prices,” I immediately thought of China, and now I see that both Time’s Emily Rauhala and The New York Times’s Choe Sang-Hun had the same thought.

Soon after assuming power, Mr. Kim complained that North Korea’s resources, one of its few sources of outside income, were being sold too cheaply. He demanded higher prices for minerals, rare earths and coal, exported by the growing number of joint ventures between China and North Korea.

Mr. Kim’s complaints were widely reported in China and angered bargain-conscious Chinese mine operators, several of whom abandoned their North Korean operations.

China has invested heavily in buying up North Korea’s mines in particular, and some Chinese investors have had difficult relationships with their North Korean partners. Rauhala notes that in addition to Rason, Jang was backing another special economic zone near Sinuiju, which China also backed.

Mostly, however, China is probably worried that Kim Jong Un is destabilizing a nuclear-armed client state on its own border.

“Every Chinese I have spoken with were worried that Kim Jong-un would test soon,” said Mr. Cavazos, a former United States army intelligence officer who is now at the Nautilus Institute, a group that studies international security. 

Mr. Cavazos said Chinese academics were concerned that Mr. Kim was “more and more out of control.” He added, “Every nuclear test by North Korea puts China in a bad position.” [N.Y. Times, Choe Sang-Hun]

Call me crazy here, but Kim Jong Un sounds a lot like someone who’s tweaking on meth. (On the other hand, one side effect of meth is weight loss, so I suppose we can rule that out.)

The Chinese want to bring whoever is in charge in Pyongyang to heel, but at the end of the day, but they’ll still try to prop him up. The only question is whether they still can.

The news from North Korea itself speaks of an atmosphere of unusually stifling fear.

“The State Security Department issued a sudden decree in early October to eradicate ‘impure’ broadcast materials and that led to a widespread crackdown,” the source said. “Fear is spreading across all provinces.”

In Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province last month, North Korean authorities publicly executed around 40 prisoners in front of 15,000 spectators, while another five were executed on the spot at the orders of a people’s court. In Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, two people were executed in October. Public executions also took place around the same time in four other provinces.

Authorities are apparently forcing people to write confessions and admit their “sins” of watching South Korean movies or shows and to identify others who watched them. [Chosun Ilbo]

The story adds that the regime has increased inspections, and put up more “barbed wire fences and booby traps” along the Tumen River. Even the AP’s Jean Lee speculates from Seoul that the purge has the elites in Pyongyang terrified, and that it will be a setback for economic “engagement.”


Park Geun Hye says that the North is “carrying out a reign of terror, undertaking a large-scale purge in order to strengthen Kim Jong Un’s power,” and that “South-North Korea relations may become more unstable.”



  1. Joshua I have been an avid reader for years now. Might you think this “Catalyst”, may be that such of the Final Countdown? With all hopes that the Citizens of the Capitol will be safe, I think the Districts of the DPRK may finally … Ponder openly


  2. 12/09/2013 changed everything. An official announcement to Earth that a Child/Man
    Monarch, only in his early 30’s now controls a Nuclear abled Nation at his young Caligula powered helm.


  3. Josh,
    I have this little fantasy that KJU is plotting to unify with ROK, and this is just part of what he has to do to lay the groundwork to be in a position to begin engagement with ROK.

    Probably not.

    What do you think of the chances? I mean…. who saw the collapse of the USSR the way it happened so suddenly…

    What do you think KJU would have to do to pull that off?

    I know it sounds naive. I just really want to have some kind of hope of a miracle for those poor common people.


  4. “one side effect of meth is weight loss, so I suppose we can rule that out”

    I propose a google image search of “Rob Ford”


  5. China at last has a serious financial interest in overthrowing the Kim regime as it presently stands. The reports of the closure of Rason are logical if Jang stood for economic development and was condemned because of it. Rason is really important to Russia and to China: first because it is an export port to them for the DPRK’s minerals…and second (and in my view more importantly) because it can shorten the sea route to the US West Coast and Canada from China by tens of thousands of dollars of fuel per voyage for containerships. It could easily generate in excess of $100 million annually in real hard currency foreign exchange to the DPRK, but it comes with all the risks of the “Open Door”. It is way more important than Kaesong.

    Under Big and Little Kim, the DPRK was a Chinese puppet state. The foreign and internal policy of Baby Kim appears quite contrary to present Chinese interests. The statements underlying the overthrow of Jang suggests that potentially billions of dollars of Chinese mining contracts will be abrogated, that Rason and the other SEZs will be revoked with actual loss of investment yuan and the loss of significant future opportunities, that nuclear development will continue. These are active measures which will hurt, damage or embarrass China.

    Chinese capitalism is, to a surprising extent, funded for the benefit of its military establishment. Watch the borders for a change in the status level of PLA Forces and an increase in their size.


  6. In addition to the Gulf of Bohai land-air-sea maneuvers, the Daily NK reports the Chinese 39th Amy is engaged in unscheduled maneuvers on Mt Baekdu. This is interesting. As I recall, China used six full armies in thirty divisions in 1950, and one would expect several armies would be used today to “restore stability.” We civilians don’t know what is being massed north of the Tumen, but I for one think it is more than just the 39th Army.


  7. This is not the beginning of the End. It is the End of the beginning. 80/90s Kid. Sorry juat had to throw out “Millenium” qoutes.