Archive for China & Korea

Peter Hahn speaks out about China freezing his accounts and investigating him …

for his humanitarian activities. Hahn says, “We feed 22,000 children every day,” including the most pitiful children of all, the kkotjaebi. While I’m generally skeptical of claims that food aid can reach the intended recipients inside North Korea, Hahn tells a sympathetic and compelling story. Read and decide for yourself.

I’m not sure if Hahn is doing as much good as he thinks he is, but I am sure that China and Kim Jong Un are the villains of this story. How ironic (and typical) that China won’t freeze the assets of North Korea proliferators and money launderers, but does freeze the assets of people who are trying to feed North Korean orphans.

Those who believe that China is ready to abandon His Porcine Majesty, and those who still see any glimmer of hope that Kim Jong Un wants to open North Korean society, should read this story carefully.

Keeping China’s Cold War cold: The case for PATO

As our alliance diplomacy fails in Asia, “Pentagon officials,” no doubt with some prodding from the White House, say that if the Senate confirms Mark Lippert as Ambassador to South Korea, he would redouble U.S. efforts to rebuild a trilateral alliance with Japan and South Korea.

“Trilateral” would be a very good start toward “multilateral,” and I wish the administration success. I don’t know much about Mr. Lippert, but a diplomatic vacuum now could mean war and chaos for us all, while good diplomacy could still restore peace and order in the world’s most economically dynamic region. While you’re thinking about how alarmist that was of me to write, give this Washington Post article a read. Then, try to think about soft, cuddly pandas.

Lippert’s job didn’t get any easier when Xi Jinping presumably strong-armed Park Geun-Hye into saying this:

“The basic stance of the (South Korean) government is that Japan in principle is not allowed to exercise its collective self-defense right within the Korean Theater of Operation, or KTO,” a government source said, requesting anonymity.

Apparently, Park rejects the possibility that Japan might exercise that right while protecting South Korea (among others) from China’s self-declared air defense identification zones or unilateral maritime claims, or to help it stabilize a post-collapse North Korea. Take another look at the map in the Post’s article:

1484_SouthChinaSea

[Washington Post]

It’s clear that China, in deference to the tested principle of “divide-and-rule,” has carefully avoided expanding that zone into the Yellow Sea. For now, China is content with buying the fishing rights (or simply stealing the fish).

China has been in a Cold War with us since before our Cold War with the U.S.S.R. ended. All that’s missing is our acknowledgement of that. Chinese domination of all of East Asia would cause a series of dramatic shocks to our economy, as China used its military supremacy to monopolize and tax the region’s resources, manufacturing, and trade routes. Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property would skyrocket, and China would impose its own terms on trade, and the costs of raw materials and finished goods. China would control the Strait of Molucca, and with it, our oil imports from the Middle East. The result would be our impoverishment as a nation. You think China is already doing many of those things now? Wait until it controls the entire Western Pacific.

In a few years, we may find ourselves facing a choice of defending (or not) our treaty allies in the region. (A second-worst case scenario would be finding ourselves bearing the entire cost of their defense.) Some of those allies have made the decision to appease China for now, in the hope that they can buy time. We all earnestly hope that our conflicts with China don’t become military conflicts. The best way to prevent that would be through good diplomacy that concentrates minds across the Pacific on their common interests and their collective strength, if allied to each other, and to us. That is, good diplomacy and strong alliances can deter China, prevent war, and avoid the common impoverishment of the U.S. and its Pacific allies.

I worry that John Kerry, who may be the worst Secretary of State in U.S. history, isn’t the man for that job.

None of this will work, of course, as long as Japan continues to shift the region’s focus to debates over settled history, and as long as other Asian nations continue to take Japan’s bait and elevate those debates over their own interests. Koreans can’t seem to confront the fact that Chinese men are turning North Korean women into sexual slaves today, because of the Chinese government’s own crimes against humanity.

Meanwhile, Japan needs to be told in clear terms to stop hedging on its apology for the Comfort Women and other historical issues. In exchange, we’ll support its claims to Senkaku, and use forceful financial sanctions to force North Korea to return its abductees.

Just as NATO preserved the peace in Europe, we need a Pacific-Asia Treaty Organization* to preserve the peace in Asia. Of course, China would say that this alliance is meant to “contain” it, which is exactly what John Kerry is telling the Chinese we aren’t doing. But a time when China is grabbing territory and resources across East Asia is past the time for reassurances. In fact, it’s probably past time for China to reassure us.

* If it bothers you that “pato” means “duck” in Spanish, we could always use “APTO” instead.

Refugees’ lives may depend on interpretations of Sino-Korean consular agreement

Human rights advocates have long contended that China’s repatriation of North Korean refugees violates international law, including obligations China undertook voluntarily in the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1969 Protocol. A U.N. Commission of Inquiry recently added its weight to that contention and strongly criticized China’s disregard of that Convention.

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[Suzanne Scholte and Rep. Park Sun-young protest
outside the Chinese Embassy in Seoul
, 2012]

Some rights advocates have hoped that the COI’s report would force China to alter its refugee-deportation policy, for reasons best explained by Roberta Cohen, Co-Chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, in an interview with NK News, and by Stephan Haggard here.

These hopes are about to be tested. This week, following Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul, The Daily NK reports that eleven North Korean refugees, arrested by China on June 19th, are in grave danger of repatriation to the North. The arrests were first reported on July 3rd Korea time, as Xi arrived in Seoul. More here, via Reuters.

If only Park Geun-Hye had seen fit to raise the issue of repatriations in her meetings with Xi. If only Xi’s desire to improve relations with Seoul had potential to benefit the 23 million Koreans unfortunate enough to reside North of the DMZ. But in one of the lesser-reported outcomes of the summit, the two leaders actually signed an agreement on consular protections for each others’ citizens:

The agreement mainly calls for the two countries to notify each other within four days when a national from the other country is arrested or detained. Meeting with consular officials will be also allowed within four days, according to the sources. [Yonhap]

But what does the agreement say about North Koreans? The ROK Constitution claims the entire Korean peninsula as its territory, and Korean nationality law extends citizenship to Koreans born on Korea’s territory.* The issue was contentious enough to prevent agreement after 11 years (!) of negotiations, so the two governments eventually decided to sidestep it:

The two countries previously had made little progress as they could not bridge the gap over whether to cover North Korean defectors and Chinese living in South Korea. The concept of “a national” was not specified, which made it easier for the two parties to reach the agreement, the sources said. [Yonhap]

The two sides also failed to agree on the status of ethnic Koreans in China, who could also have standing to argue their own ROK citizenship under the ROK Nationality Law. To further complicate matters, China asked for the agreement to cover Taiwanese arrested in Korea. A cynical man would say that China raised the latter complication solely to get South Korea to drop the issue of North Korean refugees.

The negotiations received new impetus from the case of ex-leftist and rights activist Kim Young-Hwan, whom the Chinese police arrested in 2012, held for 114 days, and allegedly tortured through sleep deprivation and the administration of electric shocks. Three other South Koreans, including Daily NK correspondent Lee Sang Yong, were also arrested with Kim.

Whether Park invokes the agreement on the refugees’ behalf, and how Xi reacts, will be a test of the quality and the extent of where Park’s conscience ends, and Xi’s begins. Eleven lives hang in the balance.

* Admittedly, this is a sweeping simplification of a complex law.

Continental drift: U.S. alliances erode despite “pivot” to Asia

Xi Jingping has departed from Seoul, where he couldn’t quite bring himself to agreeing to a joint statement with Park Geun Hye calling for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

But the statement stopped short of directly urging North Korea to give up its nuclear program, only vaguely calling for all members of the six-party nuclear talks to resolve the issue through dialogue and abide by their 2005 denuclearization-for-aid deal. [Yonhap]

Some of the dire declarations I’ve seen that Xi’s visit successfully finlandized South Korea seem premature, but Xi did take one very big step in that direction when he coaxed South Korea into agreeing to set up a bank in Seoul to clear bilateral business transactions in Chinese yuan. China’s clear intention here is to undermine the global supremacy of the dollar, circumvent the power of U.S. financial sanctions, draw South Korea into China’s economic orbit, and perhaps even shield North Korea’s international transactions from the Treasury Department. More here and here.

How this new arrangement will mesh with the artificially depressed value of the yuan will be an interesting question, but China has already made similar arrangements France, the U.K., and Germany, so we can assume that (1) the problem isn’t insurmountable, and (2) the yuan is nowhere near replacing the dollar as a reserve currency in the short term. Given the extent of public corruption in China, uncertainties in China’s economy, and the broader non-convertibility of the yuan, the yuan isn’t going to be as safe a medium of exchange as the dollar anytime soon. In the longer term, however, the threat is significant. The power of the dollar may be as important to our national power as our Navy.

In the case of South Korea, there could also be shorter-term policy implications, if yuan-clearing banks begin clearing transactions for North Korea. The effect of this would be to enlist a new group of financial profiteers in Seoul to oppose financial sanctions against the North and spread China’s risk from financial sanctions to South Korea. If the U.S. wants to retain its last best non-violent option against North Korea, it will send a very clear signal to President Park and to South Korean banks opposing this idea.

One wonders if U.S. influence is so diminished that that signal would work. The presence of 25,000 U.S. troops in South Korea ought to mean something. If South Korea isn’t really interested in disarming North Korea, one wonders why they remain there. There are moments when I think the U.S. has a greater interest in neutralizing North Korea as a proliferation threat than in having South Korea as an ally. That’s especially so when one considers the financial cost of that alliance to U.S. taxpayers.

~   ~   ~

Meanwhile, North Korea’s ransom diplomacy with Japan is succeeding. It has given Japan a list of ten names of Japanese nationals, including abductees, who are still alive in North Korea. None of the abductees has met with a Japanese official or returned home, but the Japanese government has already made moves toward relaxing its sanctions against North Korea. The effect of this will be to blunt the economic pressure intended to disarm the North. The AP provides an excellent summary of Japan’s actions:

— North Korean nationals are now allowed to enter Japan, but will be screened case-by-case if a request is filed. A ban on individuals subject to the U.N sanctions remains.

— Officials of Chongryong (the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan), which serves as a de-facto North Korean embassy here, can obtain re-entry permits after traveling to North Korea.

— An advisory discouraging Japanese nationals from traveling to North Korea is no longer in place.

PORT CALLS

— North Korean-registered vessels are able to enter Japanese ports but only for humanitarian purposes.

— A ban on a North Korean passenger ferry, the Mangyongbong-92, that was the only regular direct connection to Japan, stays in place.

— Port calls are limited to pickups of food, medicine and clothing and other articles for personal use only, and shipment of large quantities is not permitted. North Korean crewmembers will not be permitted ashore without prior approval.

MONEY TRANSFERS

— Remittances to groups and companies based in North Korea do not have to be reported to the government if not exceeding 30 million yen ($300,000), the same as to other countries. Under the sanctions, reporting any remittance exceeding 3 million yen ($30,000) was compulsory.

— Those visiting North Korea can now carry cash up to 1 million yen ($10,000) without having to report it to the government, up from 100,000 yen ($1,000).

EXPORTS

— Japan’s overall trade ban on North Korea remains in place.

— Freezing of assets on individuals and entities involved in missile programs, under U.N. Security Council resolutions, stay in place.

One potential source of dispute will be whether North Korea has given Japan a complete listing of surviving abductees. Some Japanese government publications I’ve read list dozens of potential abductees, and the Japanese public is unlikely to take Pyongyang’s “re-investigation” at its word. Another potential source of conflict is the pending tax sale of Chongryon’s headquarters in Japan. Finally, a nuke test could always upset things.

Japan’s sudden defection from the anti-North Korea alliance isn’t wholly the Obama Administration’s fault. The Bush Administration was the first to sideline Japan’s interest in getting its citizens back, but the Obama Administration squandered the last five years by failing to correct it and rebuild that alliance.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also bears a large share of the blame, with his revisionist dis-apology for Japan’s World War II-era atrocities – something that has proven useful to Xi Jinping in his efforts to isolate Japan and break up the U.S.-led Pacific coalition. If you want to read more on the spurious historical merits of Japan’s revisionism, Dennis Halpin has been doing some excellent writing on the subject.

If you think things couldn’t have declined much more over the last year, don’t forget Russia’s surge of investment in North Korea.

Taken together, these developments mean that U.S. leverage over North Korea and China has faded significantly over the last six months. That isn’t a very impressive set of accomplishments for an administration that allowed the Middle East to fall to the most brutal gang of terrorists since the Khmer Rouge, while ostensibly making Asia the focus of its full diplomatic attention.

N. Korea sells China fishing rights to S. Korean waters, just in time for Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul.

North Korea, in a demonstration of its unique gift for sowing mischief, has just added South Korea to the long list of Asian nations involved in maritime disputes with China. According to Yonhap, Pyongyang has just sold the fishing rights to “its” littoral waters in the Yellow Sea to China. That’s a problem for Seoul because Pyongyang defines “its” to include waters south of the Northern Limit Line, the disputed maritime extension of the western side of the Korean DMZ.

“Part of our waters in the Yellow Sea was included in the area that the North is allowing Chinese vessels to fish in,” said a military officer in Seoul, requesting anonymity. “Upon learning this, we’ve notified China of such a fact and asked them to be careful not to cross the northern limit line (NLL) into the South,” he added. [Yonhap]

North Korea has been making similar deals with China in recent years, but this is the first year North Korea has had the brass to sell China fishing rights in waters South Korea claims. More importantly, it is also the first year China has had the brass to buy them.

It’s not clear from the reports when North Korea and China signed the deal, or why it has only become public now, just before Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul.

Although South Korea is making it clear that Chinese ships aren’t welcome on its side of the NLL, its main instrument for enforcing its will there is … the South Korean Coast Guard, which President Park recently promised to abolish in retribution for its poor response to the Sewol Ferry disaster.

The move is a shrewd one on North Korea’s part. Not only does it get cash from China to pay for more cell phone trackers, barbed wire, and border guards, it also takes advantage of China’s predatory mood to get China’s de facto endorsement of the NLL’s nullity. Even better, it drives a wedge between China and South Korea at just as Xi Jinping visits Seoul, and just as North Korea’s plans for a fourth nuclear test are straining its own relations with China.

(North Korea could teach the South a thing or two about how to deal with illegal fishing.)

What’s in this for China? Fish, for starters. But is there really a danger that Chinese fishermen would cross the NLL, invade South Korean waters, and violently resist efforts to repel them?

Yonhap claims that “more than 100 Chinese vessels” are now operating near the NLL every day.

“Last year, most Chinese vessels worked north of the NLL, but recently they worked very close to the NLL and some crossed the line,” a South Korean Coast Guard official was quoted as saying. “So we dispatched additional patrol ships and special Coast Guard forces to the areas.”

South Korea’s Coast Guard has seized six Chinese boats that violated the NLL since May 19, including three 10-ton vessels on Tuesday. The South Korean government notified China of the illegal fishing and called for them to stop, the report said. [Kyodo News]

Chinese boats have a long history of entering South Korean waters, fishing illegally, and even killing South Korean Coast Guardsmen who board their vessels.

Sixty-nine South Koreans have been killed or injured since January 2003 while trying to catch Chinese ships operating illegally in South Korean waters, according to data from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries. Video clips from the scenes show Chinese boats fitted with high sides and tools that can be used as weapons to block inspectors from coming aboard. [Yonhap]

According to that last article, the issue of illegal Chinese fishing in South Korean waters has also become a contentious issue in talks between South Korea and China over a proposed free-trade agreement between the two countries. South Korea wants language in the proposed FTA requiring Chinese sellers to certify that any marine products were not harvested from Korean waters illegally. China refuses to even discuss the problem, which is troubling by itself. After all, why wouldn’t China agree to stay on its side of the line if the line itself isn’t disputed?

What is China’s longer game? Those of us outside the Forbidden City can only speculate, but I’ll offer my speculation under the theory that even paranoid people have real enemies. Some context may be helpful:

first island chain

[via The Economist]

Even this map doesn’t fully represent the scale of the problem. Japan’s Senkaku Islands lie on the east side of the dashed red line, despite China’s recent assertion of claims against them. Some Chinese have also been calling for their government to assert claims to Okinawa, which hosts several large U.S. military bases. Then, there’s China’s unsettling “Northeast Project,” interpreted by some Korean and American scholars as a potential claim to North Korean territory.

If this little fishing lease is the thin end of the wedge between Korea and its territorial waters in the Yellow Sea, it would be among the least creative of China’s recent boundary reinterpretations. This year, it’s only a short-term lease (no need to be alarmed!). Maybe the next one will be for five years. After that, it will be a longer-term lease, like China’s lease of the Rajin Port. If, by the time of reunification — when Korea will have so many other problems to contend with — China has effectively grabbed up the Spratleys, the Paracels, and all the waters surrounding Taiwan, would Korea really be in any position to resist, particularly if its next President is an accommodationist from Roh Moo-Hyun’s mold?

Further south, Ieodo, a/k/a Socotra Rock, where South Korea maintains a “research” station, falls within China’s unilaterally declared Air Defense Identification Zone. China has occasionally made claims to Ieodo, although China clarified in 2013 that there is no dispute. (International law doesn’t recognize territorial claims to submerged reefs anyway, so China hasn’t really relinquished anything. It’s the maritime claims that really matter.)

It isn’t hard to see where this could all be heading. At some point in time, Chinese scholars would be enlisted to conclude that the Yellow Sea is historically Chinese, and the lease would become a permanent claim. Hey, maybe it’s all my paranoid conspiracy theory. Maybe, but how many of you had you even heard of the Senkaku Islands three years ago? And maybe China could clarify all of this by agreeing to stop fishing in South Korea’s waters, and with the geographical premise of that agreement.

For Asian nations, and for nations across the Pacific that depend on trade with them, there’s an obvious commonality of interests in preserving freedom of navigation and the protection of peaceful commerce. Protecting those interests requires the deterrence of aggressive Chinese claims to islands and waters that are controlled by China’s neighbors. Military deterrence will be an important part of that.

President Obama speaks of a “pivot” to Asia, but to the extent one sees evidence of any such pivot, it mostly consists of adding more Americans to our military presence in the Pacific. That’s better than nothing, but nowhere near as good as a new regional military alliance — an Asian NATO — to coordinate the mutual defense of those common interests, and share the risks and costs of defending those interests.

No, China did not cut off N. Korea’s oil supply (corrected).

The Chinese government has announced that Xi Jinping will visit Seoul next month without having ever visited Pyongyang, a reversal of the usual sequence. Although Asian diplomats place great value on the symbolism of such things, it is also possible to make too much of it. Still, I draw a few inferences from the announcement that may be important.

First, the announcement of Xi’s visit would pose significant complications for Pyongyang if it plans to nuke off soon. Xi would feel constrained from visiting Pyongyang soon after a nuke test, and a test shortly after Xi’s visit would be a personal humiliation to Xi. I’m not going to go so far as to say that the announcement of Xi’s visit precludes a nuke test, but it does make it less likely in the near term. It could also mean that Pyongyang will look for another way to provoke.

Second, if there is no nuke test when one seemed inevitable, it would discount the analysis of those (including the Chinese themselves) who insist that China’s influence over North Korea is insufficient to stop the latter’s nuclear program. This view would be affirmed, on the other hand, if there is a nuke test despite evidence that China had cut off (or credibly threatened to cut off) North Korea’s material and financial support. For now, that evidence is inconclusive at best, but read on.

On a superficial and symbolic level, China has been relatively distant toward Pyongyang, and is making an ostentatious display of its affection toward Seoul. Heritage’s Dean Cheng even sees signs of a rift between China and North Korea, and cites a report that China didn’t export any crude oil to North Korea for the entire first quarter of 2014. If true, this would be unprecedented.

It’s also difficult to accept as true. For one thing, it’s irreconcilable with overwhelming evidence that China isn’t enforcing U.N. sanctions and has otherwise increased trade with North Korea. According to Yonhap, despite U.N. sanctions, “North Korea’s overall trade volume reached a new annual high in 2013 due largely to growing shipments to and from its closest ally, China.”

The North’s overall trade volume came to US$7.34 billion in 2013, up 7.8 percent from the previous year, according to the state-run Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA). “It is the highest amount since KOTRA began compiling data on North Korea’s annual trade volumes in 1990,” it said in a press release. 

The country’s exports jumped 11.7 percent on-year to $3.22 billion, with imports growing 5 percent to $4.12 billion. Bilateral trade volume between North Korea and China came to $6.54 billion, accounting for 89.1 percent of the North’s overall trade in 2013.

“North Korea’s dependence on China for trade has been increasing steadily since 2005 when its trade volume with China exceeded 50 percent of its overall trade,” KOTRA said. “In addition, it shows China’s pledge to tighten its customs check on shipments to and from North Korea, in protest of North Korea’s missile launch in December 2012 and a nuclear test in February 2013, did not have any significant effect on North Korea-China trade,” it added.

The large increase in North Korea’s overall exports was attributed to growing shipments of fuel, such as coal, which surged 14.9 percent on-year to $1.43 billion, accounting for 44.4 percent of the country’s total exports. Out of all energy exports, 97.2 percent were shipped to China.

Russia, another North Korean ally, was the country’s second-largest trading partner in 2013, with bilateral trade volume spiking 37.3 percent to $104 million. [Yonhap]

Why would North Korea go on selling coal to a country that cut off its oil supply? It didn’t make any sense to me, so I held this post until I could explain the inconsistency. Thankfully, the Daily NK has done that for us, via an intrepid investigative report informing us that Chinese oil still flows freely to North Korea:

Daily NK has confirmed that China is currently supplying oil to North Korea through a pipeline running between the two. Though there have been cases where Beijing has suspended such shipments in response to North Korean intransigence, particularly over nuclear issues, but this has not happened recently.

On April 10th, Daily NK visited an oil storage and pipeline facility in Dandong. There, our team interviewed Chinese Ministry of Public Security officials guarding the facility, which is owned by a subsidiary of China National Petroleum Corporation, or CNPC.

When asked about oil assistance to North Korea, one of the officers acknowledged, “We are continuously supplying oil (to North Korea),” but “cannot say how much we send each month or how much remains as of now.” [Daily NK]

Here’s a link to donate to the Daily NK.

So why does KOTRA show no exports in spite of this? Simple—China conveniently left it out of the trade statistics. According to the Daily NK’s sources, “these deliveries are not recorded in Chinese customs data, or in foreign trade statistics.” The Chinese give North Korea the oil for free and call it “aid,” which they don’t count in their export statistics because it’s not a commercial transaction. (One wonders whether China is paying for North Korean coal, or whether this has been restructured as a barter transaction to evade sanctions and foreign political pressure.)

What is the state of relations between China and North Korea today? I’d like to believe Cheng is right, and I can even agree that on a certain level, China is irritated with the North Koreans and with Kim Jong Un in particular, but I’m not willing to go as far as he is.

Christopher Johnson, “a former CIA China analyst” at SAIS, offers a more restrained view:

China is able to give North Korea what it wants, but the North apparently refuses to respect China’s interests in return, Johnson told foreign journalists at an event in Beijing organized by the Foreign Correspondents Club of China.

“There is a lot of debate about whether China’s policy toward North Korea has changed. Personally, I think that it’s a wasted debate,” Johnson said. “My own view is that they are moving away from a traditional and special relationship with North Korea to what they call a regular and normal state-to-state relationship,” he said.

Under the definition of the normal state-to-state relationship between North Korea and China, Johnson said, “China is a great power, and North Korea is a client.” “North Korea is not behaving like a client. This is fundamentally causing all kinds of tension, among other issues, in their relationship,” he said. [Yonhap]

Aside from Johnson’s statement that the debate is wasted, I can agree with much of this. China is probably irritated with Kim Jong Un’s obnoxiousness, inappropriate timing, ineptness as a ruler, and the risk that he could become a greater liability for China. It was obviously displeased when Kim Jong Un purged many North Koreans who had close personal and economic relations with China and its state-owned enterprises. Economically speaking, South Korea is more important to China than North Korea is today.

None of this changes the fact that strategically, China has a strong interest in keeping Korea divided, with a buffer state on its border instead of a rising, prosperous, powerful, and U.S.-friendly democracy. Besides which, North Korea’s coal still isn’t mined out. Better-informed people who have regular dealings with the Chinese government have told me that different parts of China’s government represent different Chinese interests, and that they often have very different and inconsistent world views. I tend to believe them about this.

Is China is done supporting Kim Jong Un? Hardly. China would prefer that he nuke up quietly. China will pressure North Korea on the margins, to get it back under control, but China still assesses its interests with respect to North Korea as fundamentally incompatible with ours.

~   ~   ~

Updates: The original version of this post (since corrected) stated that Xi Jingping intended to visit Pyongyang after visiting Seoul. Thanks to a reader for identifying this error.

A reader (thank you!) forwarded me the KOTRA data on which Yonhap’s report was based. The truth turns out to be in between Yonhap’s report and the Daily NK’s, but much closer to the Daily NK’s version. The KOTRA data show zero crude oil exports from China to North Korea, but also show a huge increase in exports of refined petroleum products (such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and fuel oil) compared to last year.

Now, I suppose it could be true that China is exporting crude to North Korea without reporting it, but then, why report the exports of gasoline and jet fuel? (Could North Korea’s refining capacity be off-line for some reason?) Also, the Chinese aren’t giving these products away to the North Koreans for free. They’re charging market prices, except for jet fuel, which they’re selling for below-market prices.

The most likely explanation is that the Daily NK actually uncovered the export of refined petroleum products, and that Yonhap’s correspondent didn’t keep reading past the line item for crude. Either way, the Daily NK gets the story mostly right, while Yonhap’s report is misleading, in a way that lets China off the hook undeservedly, right before Xi Jinping visits Seoul.

China leaks contingency plan for N. Korea collapse

Last week, North Korea unexpectedly announced that Hwang Pyong So had replaced Choe Ryong-Hae as North Korea’s top military officer and number two official. Choe had held this status since the December purge of Jang Song-Thaek. It may be a complete coincidence that Kyodo News has since reported on allegedly leaked contingency plans by the Chinese Army to seal the border and protect North Korean officials from, shall we say, summarized judicial proceedings in the event of a collapse of the regime in Pyongyang, possibly due to “an attack … by foreign forces.”

Specifically, China’s plans call for setting up refugee camps just inside its border, and “for special groups be sent to border areas to ascertain the situation, investigate new arrivals, block entry to any deemed dangerous or undesirable, and counter oppositional forces.” The Chinese plans reportedly plan for camps to accommodate up to 1,500 people, which seems grossly inadequate in light of past estimates that at the peak of the famine, between 50,000 and 300,000 North Koreans may have crossed into China.

Also, Kim Jong Un’s surviving cronies may suffer a substantial degradation in their standards of living:

According to the documents, any important North Korean political or military figures who could be targeted for assassination should be given protection. But at the same time, they should be placed in special camps where their activities could be monitored to prevent them from directing military operations or engaging in other activities that could be detrimental to China’s interests.

There are also veiled threats against us:

Another scenario involves a “military power,” presumably a reference to the United States, crossing the China-North Korea border on some pretext such as countering terrorism. If diplomatic negotiations were to fail to resolve the problem, the documents say, other steps that could be taken include closing the border or carrying out cyberattacks to disrupt information networks. [Kyodo News]

Really, China? And I thought we were friends.

An expert interviewed by The Telegraph adds, “[T]he more totalitarian the regime, the harder and faster they fall.”  China has since denied the report.

Like Walter Russell Mead, I suspect the report was probably leaked deliberately, most likely by China. It would be good news if the Chinese Army really doesn’t intend to cross the border, but at the risk of sounding like Stalin in the late 30’s, the story has the whiff of disinformation about it. Most of it seems to be aimed at the North Koreans, but some of it also aimed at us. I’d be very pleasantly surprised if China didn’t also have plans to seize certain parts of North Korea — Rajin, maybe Hoeryong, Sinuiju, and the mines at Musan, in which China is heavily invested — perhaps as a bargaining chip to secure its economic investments, a guarantee of access to the Pacific ports, or a promise to keep U.S. forces out of the North.

Or, perhaps just because it wants those places and thinks it can get away with making a temporary “humanitarian” occupation into a permanent autonomous zone-slash-buffer state. This isn’t just my speculation, in case you’re wondering. It all depends on what Xi Jinping thinks he can get away with, and whether China faces enough credible threats to deter that. Aside from the risk of conflict, China could face harsh economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure, but in the long term, no deterrent would be more effective than a credible threat of an anti-Chinese insurgency by the North Koreans, supported by foreign powers.

Still, China does sound uncharacteristically serious about dissuading Kim Jong Un from nuking off, given that China has spent the last eight years not enforcing North Korea sanctions. Why? I can only speculate, but one reason could be that for the first time in approximately ever, China stands to lose a great deal economically if North Korea tests. A test would likely mean a swift election-year passage of H.R. 1771, which would carry severe economic consequences for Chinese businesses and banks with financial ties to North Korea, unless they cut their links to the North immediately. The close temporal link between the introduction of H.R. 1771 (April 26, 2013) and a series of actions by big Chinese banks to distance themselves from North Korea (May 7, 2013) could be a case of either coincidence or causation, but does lend some support to my speculation.

Mead also links to Adam Garfinkle, who suggests that regional powers might one day cooperate to plot a “modulated, controlled euthanasia for the North Korean regime.” That’s one of the better diplomatic outcomes we can hope to achieve, but it’s implausible until (1) our own policy becomes clearer and more coherent, (2) we align with our allies in the region, which continue to vacillate between policies of economic pressure and economic subsidy, (3) join with them in an effective coalition to use our combined economic and diplomatic power against China and Russia, and secure their cooperation through a combination of targeted sanctions, military pressure, and diplomacy that recognizes their basic security and economic interests.

For China, holocaust denial substitutes for diplomacy

It’s offensively obtuse things like this that convince me that Chinese will eventually be as despised in North Korea as Japan is despised in South Korea, and that its profiteers won’t be safe to walk the streets of Rajin: 

“The inability of the commission to get support and cooperation from the country concerned makes it impossible for the commission to carry out its mandate in an impartial, objective and effective manner,” said Chen Chuandong, a counselor at China’s mission in Geneva. [Yonhap]

In the same spirit, how can we really be so sure the Rape of Nanking and Unit 731 weren’t figments of biased imaginations without Hideki Tojo’s “support and cooperation?” Speaking of support and cooperation, North Korea just missed another opportunity to offer it:

“So Se Pyon first interrupted a statement by the head of the Japanese Association of Families of Victims Kidnapped by North Korea to challenge his right to address the council, before standing up and walking out in protest.” [AFP]

“The commission of inquiry on the DPRK is none other than a marionette representing the ill-minded purpose of its string pullers including the United States and its followers who are endeavoring to eliminate the socialist system on the pretext of human rights,” North Korea’s ambassador So Se Pyong told the U.N. rights forum this month. [Reuters]

See, if Goering had just refused to cooperate with the Nuremberg Tribunal, he’d have lived out his autumn years shooting up smack in his hunting lodge in the Black Forest.

Inquiry leader Kirby said it is time to act rather than talk. “What is unique has been the capacity of North Korea to avoid international scrutiny, to avoid examination of its record over such a long time, effectively 60 years of very great wrongs against its population,” he told Reuters.

“Now we have a full volume book that tells it all in a comprehensive manner. The moment of truth has approached. We must turn it into action,” he added.

Human rights were among the founding principles of the United Nations in the wake of World War Two, after discovery of atrocities against Jews and minorities, he said. He wants North Korea referred to the ICC or to a special ad hoc tribunal. [Reuters]

Modern-day Japan, notwithstanding its problems coming to terms with its past crimes against humanity, is at least leading the effort at the U.N. to hold North Korea accountable for crimes against humanity in the present tense. Modern-day China is doing its best to aid, abet, and perpetrate them:

China strongly criticized Tuesday a high-profile U.N. report on human rights situations in North Korea that said Beijing may be “aiding crimes against humanity” by repatriating North Korean defectors to their homeland against their will.

“We totally cannot accept this accusation,” China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters, a day after U.N. investigators condemned North Korea for widespread human rights abuses under the leadership of Kim Jong-un.

China, the North’s key ally, has considered tens of thousands of North Koreans hiding in the border areas as illegal migrants, not asylum-seekers, and routinely sends them back to North Korea, where they face harsh penalties, even death.

Hua repeated China’s stance on North Korean defectors, saying Beijing views them as “illegal border-crossers,” not “defectors,” therefore not subject to protection. [Yonhap]

This is why I can’t understand why anyone — least of all, any Korean — could plausibly see modern-day Japan as a threat to peace, or fail to see China as a threat to peace, or as an imminent and mortal threat to the lives and dignity of 23 million Koreans. Oh, those are North Koreans? In that case, never mind.

Why rising rice prices probably don’t mean that China is enforcing U.N. sanctions.

Hope springs eternal.  I said recently that it wouldn’t surprise me to see China temporarily restrict trade with / aid to North Korea to mislead us into thinking that it’s really pressuring North Korea to disarm, thereby slowing the momentum here to legislate what Glyn Davies calls “national” sanctions.  This trick works so well because so many of us so desperately want to believe that China will give us an easy out.  Witness this report, via Korea Real Time, that rice prices have risen in Pyongyang, linking it to a crackdown by Chinese customs.  Does this mean that China is finally saving us from having to deal with North Korea?  Can we get back to pretending this isn’t our problem?  No?  Here are some reasons why this story could mean a lot of other things, aside from the thing we wish it meant.

1.  Grain prices always rice in North Korea at this time every year.  In the spring, North Korea’s winter stocks of food start to run out, and nothing has sprouted from the ground yet.

2.  North Korean traders who supply its jangmadang have become very sophisticated speculators who know enough to link missile and nuclear tests to temporary crackdowns on cross-border flows of merchandise.  If the traders also noticed increased scrutiny by Chinese customs, the price rises would be more speculation than a function of supply and demand.

3.  How do you measure prices at all in a place like North Korea?  In terms of North Korean currency, or in terms of the Chinese yuan, which has increasingly become the de facto currency of North Korea’s people’s economy since the Great Confiscation of 2009?  In a lengthy post, Chris Green makes the case that yuan-based rice prices have risen steadily since then, but that the rise may be more indicative of shifting exchange rates as North Korea’s “people’s economy” transitions to one based on the yuan.

4.  Recently, Yonhap reported that North Korean grain imports from China plunged between December and January, after North Korea’s latest missile test but before its nuclear test.  This wouldn’t be North Korea if we didn’t have some contradictory evidence to harmonize — in this case, a Daily NK report that North Korea recalled some of its purchasing agents from China in December, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s assumption of room temperature (even in death, he’s still starving them).  But rice is an elite food in North Korea, and if (presumably state-employed) traders were called off the street in December, it makes sense that there would be fewer deliveries on transactions in January.

5.  If China were really cooperating with sanctions against North Korea, I’d say food is about the last thing we should expect them to crack down on.  Although there is some evidence that food shortages are a factor in falling morale and rising defections among front-line NKPA units, the regime almost certainly sees hunger as a highly effective tool of control.  Hungry people are listless, passive, and easy to control.

Again, I don’t foreclose the possibility that China is temporarily pressuring, or will temporarily pressure, North Korea on aid and trade.  That’s in China’s interests, even if (especially if!) you view them as cynically as I do.  Still, there are several other explanations for the price rise that are functions of North Korea’s own political and economic policies, and the consequent tendency for North Korean markets to be vulnerable to supply disruption and speculation.

Chinese banks host massive slush funds for Kim Jong Un despite “tough” new U.N. resolution

So over the weekend, I read U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094, and I didn’t see much that deviated from the low expectations I expressed based on the press reports.  (Since then, Marcus Noland has expressed a similarly pessimistic view).

For those nations that are interested in strict enforcement, there is useful material in this; for example, the reference to the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force, which you can find on Page 13 of this document, will cause some nations to be more circumspect about letting their banks host North Korean funds.  But in the end, as with previous resolutions, the effectiveness of this one will depend on how different nations interpret vague terms like “credible evidence” and “reasonable grounds to believe,” and more specifically, how strictly China is willing to enforce it.

What’s that, you ask? A timely and relevant example that could answer the critical question in the previous paragraph, thereby providing useful guidance to policy-makers?  OK, I think I’ll go with this one:

12. Calls upon States to take appropriate measures to prohibit in their territories the opening of new branches, subsidiaries, or representative offices of DPRK banks, and also calls upon States to prohibit DPRK banks from establishing new joint ventures and from taking an ownership interest in or establishing or maintaining correspondent relationships with banks in their jurisdiction to prevent the provision of financial services if they have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that these activities could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear or ballistic missile programmes, or other activities prohibited by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), and this resolution, or to the evasion of measures imposed by resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), or this resolution;

Someone play Handel’s Messiah as we enter a new world of financial due diligence, in which the regime and its key figures can no longer keep massive slush funds in offshore banks and freely repurpose them for suspicious alloys, hollow-point ammo for the border guards, and a customized Maybach electric scooter for His Porcine Majesty to ride around the Kwangbok Area Supermarket. Right?

South Korean and U.S. authorities have found dozens of accounts presumed to belong to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in several banks in Shanghai and other parts of China. They contain hundreds of millions of dollars.

Yet for some reason the accounts were excluded from financial sanctions under the new UN Security Council Resolution 2098, which was adopted last Thursday, posing questions over the effectiveness of the measures.

A government source here said an investigation that lasted for several years led South Korea and the U.S. to the accounts. “We have located the names of the account holders and account numbers, some of them set up in the days of former North Korean leader Kim Jong-il,” the source added.

South Korean and U.S. officials urged China to include the accounts in the latest sanctions against North Korea, but Beijing apparently refused. “Following North Korea’s third nuclear test, China has demonstrated willingness to take part in sanctions against the North,” the government source said. “But Beijing is reluctant to touch North Korea’s real Achilles heel.”  [Chosun Ilbo]

Hat tip to the South Korean government Strategic Leak Wire Service.

So we can already see where this is all headed, if the past isn’t sufficient to tell you.  And in case you missed the point, China is making it clear publicly that it won’t “abandon” North Korea. We can see what China means.  China will need “help” from the U.S. Congress and Treasury Department to enforce this resolution in a minimally effective way.

Plan B Watch: China’s U.N. Bait-and-Switch

We’ve seen enough of China’s past conduct when it comes to U.N. resolutions aimed at North Korean proliferation that we ought to recognize duplicity when we see it.  We should also know by now that our hapless U.N. Ambassador isn’t very good at recognizing that duplicity.  That’s why the news that China is expected to vote for another U.N. Security Council resolution this morning underwhelms me.  I even think I have a pretty good  idea what China’s game is here.

Like I said before — China has enough spyware on our computers to see that the political climate in Washington on North Korea policy has shifted.  It knows that its own stalling has put wind in the sails of people like Ed Royce, who know that the U.S. and its allies can do far more damage to North Korea through unilateral (and then multilateral) legislation than they can through the U.N.  China has done everything to enable North Korea and nothing to restrain it, but it has used the U.N. quite effectively to restrain us from restraining North Korea.

China calculates that by agreeing to tougher-looking U.N. sanctions, it might take some wind out of Royce’s sails, give State and its friends in the Senate a basis to oppose legislative sanctions, and maintain its U.N. chokehold over the enforcement of sanctions against North Korea.  In due course, when the Americans calm down, China will go right back to enforcing exactly nothing.  Don’t fall for it.  It’s a bait-and-switch:

The proposed new measures would explicitly ban the sale to Pyongyang of items coveted by North Korea’s ruling elite, such as yachts and racing cars, a council diplomat said on condition of anonymity. The draft also aims to make it more difficult for Pyongyang to move funds around the world. [Reuters]

So, six-plus years after UNSCR 1718 prohibited the sale of luxury goods to North Korea, China is getting around to clarifying that yachts and racing cars are also luxury goods.  Good to know. Maybe next year, they’ll pass a resolution for gold-plated bathroom fixtures, vicuña wool socks, and whichever designer Ri Sol Ju is wearing this week.  Compare this paltry list to the U.S. list of luxury goods in the Code of Federal Regulations (15 C.F.R. sec. 746.1 and supplement, in case you care to look it up).

If enforced — a very big “if,” that — this would be better:

She said the new sanctions would target “the illicit activities of North Korean diplomatic personnel, North Korean banking relationships, (and) illicit transfers of bulk cash.”

Or so Susan Rice said at a press conference, without providing any details.

[A] Security Council diplomat familiar with the measure, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the language may still be subject to revision, said it broke new ground with restrictions and prohibitions on North Korean banking transactions, new travel restrictions and increased monitoring of North Korean ship and air cargo.  [N.Y. Times]

Here’s a little more on the inspections authority:

The council diplomat said that once the resolution is approved, states will be obligated to expel any North Korean agent of a U.N.-blacklisted entity and will be required to inspect suspicious North Korean cargo on their territory. Such inspections of North Korean vessels are currently voluntary.

“All States shall inspect all (North Korea-linked) cargo within or transiting through their territory …. if the State concerned has credible information that provides reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains items the supply, sale, transfer, or export of which is prohibited,” the draft says. [Reuters]

Ships that refused inspection would not be permitted to dock.  Of course, you don’t have to be a lawyer to see the loopholes in “credible information” and “reasonable grounds.”  Oh, would someone please bring this to the attention of the corrections desk at the New York Times?

It would be the fourth Security Council sanctions resolution on North Korea, which has defied the previous measures with increasing belligerence. A vote was expected on Thursday.

Nope, fifth:  1695, 1718, 1874, 2087, and the next Groundhog Day, however It shall be numbered (don’t these guys check my sidebar before they write these things?).

American officials said privately that the latest resolution did not go as far as they would have liked, reflecting China’s insistence that the punitive measures remain focused on discouraging North Korea’s nuclear and missile behavior and avoid actions that could destabilize the country and lead to an economic collapse.

But the text was stronger than what some North Korean experts had anticipated, particularly the measures that could slow or frustrate the country’s banking activities and extensive dependence on cash payments in its trade with other countries.

“Going after the banking system in a broad brush way is arguably the strongest thing on this list,” said Evans J. R. Revere, a former State Department specialist in East Asian and Pacific affairs, and now senior director at the Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington-based consulting company. “It does begin to eat into the ability of North Korea to finance many things.”  [N.Y. Times]

Whatever is in this draft, “western diplomats” sound confident that it will pass, plus-or-minus a few tweaks.  If so, I’ll probably start reading it after work, which means I probably won’t have time to digest and analyze it until this weekend.

This isn’t to say that this resolution is worse than nothing, like 2087 was.  After I read it, I’ll know, but it will never be a substitute for well-enforced U.S. and allied legislation providing for tough sanctions against non-compliant entities and nations.  A U.N. resolution will provide the impetus for tougher enabling legislation and better enforcement in Japan, Europe, and Southeast Asia.  It will not mean anything to countries like Syria and Iran. With respect to China, where implementation matters most, a new resolution will be just as unenforceable as the old ones unless Congress “helps” China — and the Chinese banks and companies that also do business with the United States — to enforce it. If Tuesday’s hearing was any indication, most members of both political parties are ready to offer that help.

Another big question is South Korea and its participation in the Kaesong Industrial Park.  I see growing international pressure for the South to either extract some real financial transparency out of Kaesong — ie., put a mechanism in place to use 100% of the proceeds to buy corn and provide commodities directly to the workers there — or shut the place down.  Park will want to resist that, right up to the moment North Korea changes her mind by doing something stupid.

As I read this resolution, I’ll be asking myself what the objective is.  Is it really to end North Korea’s nuclear program, or is it just to make it a little less convenient for North Korea to cheat for another year or so?  If your objective is the former, nothing short of putting the North Korean economy into what amounts to international receivership will do it.  If the latter, then we’re still on the same trajectory we’ve been on since at least 2006, and we can all see where that leads.  It will mean more rounds of whack-a-mole, whereby a sanctions committee receives a report on some prohibited activity, spends two months investigating it, spends another eight months fighting Chinese stalling and blocking, and finally adds a few suspect individuals and entities to some list long after they’ve moved on and folded up their booths.

To be effective, sanctions have to be (1) comprehensive enough to cover all sources of North Korean funds that could be used for prohibited purposes, (2) flexible enough to catch fly-by-night operators, (3) burden-shifting, such that the burden is on North Korea to prove the permissible use of the funds.

Correction:  Sung Yoon Lee reminds me of another resolution from way back in 1993.  So the actual number is now six.

China Plays Rope-a-Dope

OFK REGULARS KNOW that I view Shen Dingli as the living, breathing embodiment of everything about China’s government that’s maleficent, loathsome, arrogant, and neo-imperialist (to re-expropriate a term from the Marxists).  Shen, a professor of “American studies,” regular visitor to Pyongyang, and frequent contributor to influential publications abroad, often appears to represent the views of his government, which ordinarily spares no effort to censor even the most insignificant weibo. In this murky capacity, Shen publicly green-lighted North Korea’s 2006 nuke test and reacted to the Yeongpyeong shelling by equating South Korean civilians to North Korean fish.  Today, however, he is writing in Foreign Policy that China should “vote for tougher sanctions, while at the same time reducing aid and trade with its erstwhile ally.”

It’s tempting to take this seriously, but I won’t until I see lasting evidence of a tangible shift in China’s behavior.  Will China support Chapter VII sanctions against North Korea in the Security Council?  Will it enforce that resolution, or even those it has voted for in the past?  I think it’s quite possible that, as before, China will briefly restrict cross-border trade, but I doubt that would last long, because China’s zero-sum calculation of its own interests and ours hasn’t changed.  China wants to keep Korea divided, wants to keep Americans and their political models away from China’s borders, and wants to keep U.S. forces in the Pacific split between as many potential threats as possible.

Here is what I think this does mean.  China has good intelligence in this town, in part because its spyware is on all of our computers.  China senses that the momentum for very tough sanctions is building, and that the kind of sanctions being considered in Congress — and even advocated by the Editors of The Washington Post – could undo a decade of Chinese economic hegemony in North Korea.  Economically, of course, one can only have modest interests in a nation with a GDP of $40 billion (compared to South Korea’s $1.2 trillion and America’s $15.5 trillion).  The significance of those investments isn’t really economic, it’s territorial.  What does North Korea export that China can’t produce itself?  Have China’s investments in North Korea really been all that lucrative?  By feigning outrage, China may hope to shift our focus back toward persuading its rulers instead of imposing sanctions outside the U.N. framework, and beyond the reach of its veto.

China can also see as well as we can that North Korea’s test has ignited a public debate in South Korea about getting nukes of their own, and that the test may give Japan’s government additional reasons to rearm.  China can’t exactly exert hegemonic pressure on Japan or South Korea if it doesn’t at least pretend to exert pressure on the North, too.  This isn’t to deny that China may find the timing of North Korea’s actions inconvenient and annoying, as it asserts itself against its neighbors in the Pacific.  That doesn’t mean North Korea’s nuclear program has outlived its utility to China.

Statements like Shen’s might be seen as binding more representative governments, but of course, Shen isn’t exactly a government official, which makes him easy to disavow.  Meanwhile, China is free to give North Korea whatever private assurances it wants, knowing that neither China nor North Korea has a press or a population that can hold either government accountable.  Soon enough, both regimes must hope, this plume will blow over, and we’ll all be playing their game yet again.

 

Xi Jinping Outsources Meeting With Park Geun-Hye to His Food Taster

food tasterChina’s unhelpful behavior in the Security Council would have been reason enough for Park Geun Hye to follow the example of Shinzo Abe,* who deferred meeting with Chinese officials and instead met with the leaders of “countries sharing the same values, such as democracy and the rule of law.”  In retrospect, that might have been best:

In her meeting with China’s Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun yesterday, President-elect Park Geun-hye said North Korea’s nuclear weapons development cannot be tolerated and that Seoul will take stern measures against Pyongyang’s additional provocations, according to her spokeswoman.  [Joongang Ilbo]

So the Chinese had a Vice Foreign Minister – not even the Foreign Minister, but the Vice Foreign Minister — greet the President-Elect of South Korea and hand her a letter from Xi Jingping?  How many of you can even name a Deputy Secretary of State without googling? Would this be another case of that patient diplomatic sagacity Tom Friedman has been touting?

The incoming president, however, said that doors will be open for dialogue and cooperation through a “trust-building process.”

“North Korea’s nuclear development can never be tolerated,” Park was quoted as saying by spokeswoman Cho Yoon-sun. “South Korea will respond sternly to any provocations by the North.”

Cho said that Park, at the same time, said she will leave open the windows for dialogue and cooperation, including humanitarian aid.

It’s all so rational, it can’t possibly work.  I’ll say it again: when Park Geun Hye talks about North Korea, she sounds a lot like Lee Myung Bak – and Barack Obama — sounded before Kim Jong Il tested a missile and a nuke, murdered Park Wang-Ja at Kumgang, renounced the armistice, sank the Cheonan, and shelled Yeongpyeong.

One person who definitely isn’t planning to offer North Korea any of that hippie dialogue and cooperation crap? Shinzo Abe.

It may be best that Xi himself didn’t show up, given his previously expressed views that the Korean War was, from the Commie perspective, “a great and just war for safeguarding peace and resisting aggression” that was imposed on China by “imperialist invaders” and resulted in “a great victory in the pursuit of world peace and human progress.”  Xi added that, to quote the Chosun Ilbo’s translation, “the Chinese people have not forgotten their great friendship with North Korea.  Yes, Melanie Kirkpatrick has written all about how the Chinese people show their friendship to North Koreans, which can sound a lot like the “friendship” that Japanese soldiers showed to the Korean comfort women of their time. Xi Jinping apparently has equally chilling concepts of world peace and human progress.  Yes, friendly guys, those ChiComs.  I’m sure the people of North Korea will remember that friendship for a long time.

It it just me, or has Asia suddenly become a prolific producer of especially zany heads of state? I’d begun to wonder if North Korea’s condition was contagious when Aidan Foster-Carter steered me to this story on how Chinese neo-Maoists have turned North Korea into a place of pilgrimage.

Meanwhile, Kurt Campbell just led a U.S. delegation to Seoul to meet with Park Geun-Hye’s transition team, while the awful Glyn Davies is leading another delegation to Seoul, Tokyo, and Beijing, just to maximize the potential for inconsistency.  Campbell has traditionally been one of the most solid members of Obama’s foreign policy team, which is why it’s a pity that he’s leaving it.  Campbell used the occasion to deliver a strong hint that North Korea should not test a nuke, something the North Koreans have reportedly told China they intend to do soon.

I’m sure that as before, the Chinese are exerting all their considerable influence to prevent that.

Campbell also said that the U.S. continues to push for sanctions at the Security Council, something our U.N. Ambassador, Susan Rice, hasn’t managed to get through the Great Wall of China since 2009.

John Bolton was unavailable for comment.

*  On the other hand, whoever advised Abe that Asian nations would line up like Apple fanboys to join an “arc of freedom and prosperity” really should find a new line of work. It doesn’t do to remind people of your own imperial misadventures when you’re trying to convince people — correctly in my view — that China’s imperial ambitions are the greater danger now. This kind of Japanese bumbling only helps China to confuse the present danger by helping it change the subject to the distant past. Even I find myself in rare agreement with KNCA, at least about the optics of it.

Correction:  A reader points out that the Park-Zhang meeting occurred in Seoul, not Beijing.  I apologize for the error and have corrected it.

China Targets North Korean Refugees and the Activists Who Help Them

So those reports that China would stop repatriating North Korean refugees were probably disinformation after all. Instead, China is launching yet another pogrom against North Korean refugees, which coincides with a wider sweep against foreigners that got its impetus (or pretext) from one drunken Brit. China is also targeting foreigners who are helping North Korean refugees:

“I heard that police and security staff are in every nook of the streets. All defectors must take shelter and cannot come out of it,” he said. “Most of the brokers appear to have returned home due to the crackdown. Chinese residents also refuse to help defectors in dire need of their support.” [....]

The clampdown also targets activist groups that have been operating near the border areas to help North Korean refugees. Chinese authorities take issue with their visas, which are mostly intended for tourism, not activism, activists said. Kim Young-hwan, a renowned human rights activist, and his three colleagues have been held in China for unspecified reasons since late March. They have been denied access to their families, the South Korean consulate and legal assistance.

“In recent weeks, more and more missionaries and activists have been ordered to leave the country. (The Chinese authorities) even threatened to punish them out if they don’t return home quickly,” said Peter Chung, chief of the Justice for North Korea, an activist group based in Seoul.

The South Korean government has raised the issue of Kim Young Hwang’s prolonged detention to the Chinese government, to little apparent effect. There is also this suspicious event to consider:

Kang Ho-bin, a South Korean human rights activist and survivor of an apparent assassination attempt in 2011, died in a car accident in China on Sunday.

Kang, who had been working for North Korean human rights in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture for more than 10 years, died in a car accident on Sunday as he was driving to a church at about 2 p.m. Officials at the church said that Chinese authorities have not elaborated on the accident, but said that Kang is suspected of having fallen asleep at the wheel.

Although the Chinese authorities were initially vague about the accident, raising suspicions about the circumstances of Kang’s death, the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs has since said that there is no evidence to suggest North Korean involvement.

China is, however, collaborating with the North Korean regime to import hand-picked North Korean workers to labor in Chinese factories. In the past, the regime has collected “voluntary” contributions from expatriate workers’ wages, leaving them barely enough to live on. Even so, their pre-tax pay is probably still much less than the wages that even Chinese workers would accept, which means that two nominally socialist regimes get to split the profits generated from the use of slave labor. If anyone out there can help me identify which companies are using that labor, there are legal methods to prevent goods produced with this labor from being imported into the United States.

Nuke Test Watch: One Disease, Many Symptoms

OK, I admit it — I’m disappointed in the North Koreans for wimping out:

North Korea on Tuesday ruled out an imminent nuclear weapon test, but vowed to expand and bolster its nuclear deterrence as well as its sovereign right to launch satellites, while slamming the Group of Eight nations’ condemnation of its failed long-range rocket launch in April.

In a remark given to Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency, a spokesman for North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that the North didn’t have a plan for a nuclear test from the beginning, because it sought to launch a scientific and technical satellite.

“From the beginning, we did not envisage such a military measure as a nuclear test as we planned to launch a scientific and technical satellite for peaceful purposes,” said the official.

“Several weeks ago, we informed the U.S. side of the fact that we are restraining ourselves in real actions though we are no longer bound to the February 29 DPRK-U.S. agreement, taking the concerns voiced by the U.S. into consideration for the purpose of ensuring the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula necessary for focusing every effort on the peaceful development.” [Yonhap]

Well, damn. I wanted an election-year demonstration of how our desperate diplomatic appeals and offers failed to buy North Korea out of the headlines. I wanted someone else to point out how we allowed our obsession with treating each symptom to interfere with our diagnosis and treatment of the disease. I wanted someone else to wonder how it is that even now, our diplomats seem befuddled that North Korea doesn’t behave the way it’s supposed to when appeased. And maybe I’ll still get what I want. Keep hope alive!

If North Korea puts this off, the most plausible reason is that China pressured North Korea to put it off. This will be both temporary and inadequate. If the North Koreans don’t test a nuke before Election Day, it’s a safe bet they’ll test one shortly thereafter.

Earlier Tuesday, James Hardy, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly said that images taken by two satellite companies, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye, in the past month showed more earth being removed from a tunnel at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site in North Korea’s northeast.

There is a trope in this town that China — despite being the portal for the vast majority of North Korea’s regime-sustaining trade and aid, both legal and illegal — really can’t control North Korea. I’ve long suspected that China merely chooses not to control North Korea, except just before American and South Korean election seasons. But we’re never more than one excuse way from North Korea doing something completely different from what it just said.

Of course, most diseases have many symptoms. Have a look at what the North Koreans are doing at the Cape Musudan test site. Yes, 38 North can be interesting when it’s adding something new to the discussion.

On October 11, 2008, North Korea was removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism for its progress toward nuclear disarmament. Discuss among yourselves.

If Ever so Briefly, China Picks a Public Fight with North Korea

Not that it matters much to the Chinese government, but North Korea’s seizure of those 28 or 29 fishermen has pissed off a lot of Chinese netizens. No, the Chinese government isn’t about to bow to the demands of Weibo commenters, but the other side of this cause-and-effect relationship is interesting. This outrage, as temporary as it’s sure to be, has to be a consequence of a deliberate decision by the Chinese government to make a public issue of this incident. China’s attitude here really isn’t all that different from what you’d expect had the arresting authorities been South Korean — this really seems to be a reflection of China’s insistence on the filial piety of its vassal states. China’s beef isn’t that North Korea is brutal, it’s that North Korea is rebellious.

The reports are both consistent and plausible that the North Korean sailors looted the Chinese boats and the possessions of their crew members, and that they mistreated their captives. No surprise there, but then, we’d be able to put that in its proper context if we really knew whose waters the Chinese were fishing in at the time, or whether the North Korean sailors were acting under orders or were engaging in piracy. On balance, it seems more likely that the Chinese were the ones who crossed the line, and that the North Korean sailors took the sort of liberties that undisciplined forces tend to take when in positions of power.

What an Interesting Coincidence: China Arms N. Korea, We Arm Taiwan!

Shortly after the disclosure that China sold missile transporters to North Korea, in violation of UNSCR 1695, 1718, and 1874, the White House decides to reconsider a decision about weapons sales to Taiwan:

Taiwan said it welcomed the pledge by the United States to reconsider a proposed sale of new fighter jets to the island, a defence deal likely to upset Beijing. Taiwan has been pushing for the purchase of 66 new US-made F-16 fighter jets, but the deal has been stalled by Washington. The White House on Friday promised “serious consideration” to selling the jets in the wake of “the growing military threat to Taiwan”. [....]

Washington announced in September it would equip Taiwan’s 146 F-16 A/B jets with new technologies, in a $5.85 billion deal which falls short of the island’s fervent wish for 66 new F-16 C/Ds. [AFP]

I fear that certain personalities in the State Department will feel constrained from reversing this decision, because they’re only willing to upset the Chinese so much during one period. Some will even see it as a trade-off for offering protection to oppressed Chinese dissidents like Chen Guangcheng.

A campaigner against forced abortions and sterilizations, Chen spent four years in prison and then was kept in punitive house arrest for the past 20 months, despite the lack of legal grounds for doing so. Clinton and other U.S. officials have repeatedly raised his case, though Beijing did nothing to abate the confinement, occasional beatings and other harsh treatment.

Let me counter with this question: so what if they’re upset? Will they go to war over this? Would caving to their arbitrary demands make conflict less likely, or more likely? Will they mobilize their Fifty Cent Army to demonize us even more than they are now? What’s the value of what passes for a “good” diplomatic relationship with the ChiComs? Let’s not pretend that this will ever be a genuinely cooperative diplomatic relationship, any more than we should fear that it would mean a breakdown in our commercial relationship. Both countries — but especially China — need that commercial relationship, so both parties will want to isolate it from our diplomatic differences. Our diplomatic relationship with China is never going to be genuinely cooperative, because China’s rulers have decided that they’re in a zero-sum competition with America for regional and global supremacy.

China will continue to frustrate America’s security interests and support regimes hostile to America as long as doing so doesn’t hurt China. It didn’t support al Qaeda because it has its own problem with Muslim insurgents. It supports North Korea because the oppression and starvation of millions of North Koreans don’t count as a “downside” to the men who rule in the Forbidden City. China supports North Korea because it gambles that America won’t attach a cost to its support, and because it believes it has enough influence over enough Americans to mitigate that cost. Nothing has proved China wrong about that so far.

Update: I see some of you reading this from China. Here’s something that might interest you:

I guess I can live without that traffic. For those of you who don’t speak Chinese, here’s some information on Chen’s cause, and the answer to an obvious question: just how incompetent do the police have to be to let a blind man to get away?

And former Biden staffer and occasional OFK reader Frank Jannuzi works for Amnesty now? Really?

Will China Finally Pay a Price for Enabling North Korea?

A staffer for the new, improved, media-savvy Republican Staff for the House Foreign Affairs Committee forwards some interesting video clips of its senior members talking about U.S. policy toward China. First up is Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who calls President Obama’s treatment of the Dalai Lama “shameful.”

Next, Dan Burton contrasts this with the effusive welcome given to the ChiCom emperor, who used the occasion to embarrass his hosts and score points with nationalist, anti-American netizens at home.

Finally, Chris Smith called Obama’s failure to raise human rights issues during Hu’s visit “a grotesquely missed opportunity.”

You can easily predict the reaction from certain quarters to this sort of rhetoric — that strident criticism of China’s domestic abuses and its foreign mischief hinders the all-important goal of “harmonious” relations, to which some of them seem to assign more value that the very values of our nation. This criticism comes into two flavors. The first of these discounts the very legitimacy of the issues that the members raise. Its arrogance is to squander the right of free speech by insisting that the same right should be denied to everyone else. But that is a view held mostly by inhabitants of the political fringes and those who would only visit a site like this one to gather open-source information.

The second view nominally accepts the legitimacy of the issues, but prefers to downplay them while questioning the stridency of rhetoric raising them. When pressed, these Downplayers usually insist that their criticisms originate from a sincere desire to help the United States to acquire influence, improve relations, and ultimately advance its national interests, but the criticisms lack mutuality when it’s China that commits the effrontery. For example, you’d expect to hear these critics express a little more dismay when China it engages in gratuitous antagonisms like having a pianist play “My Motherland” at a White House state dinner. It’s hard to see what legitimate national interest that advanced. Or, you’d expect them to advocate America’s interests to the Chinese when China is repeatedly exposed enabling North Korea as a proliferator and aggressor. If that is happening, I’m not seeing it, and furthermore, China clearly isn’t listening to it. But unlike the state dinner fiasco, you can at least rationalize these provocations-by-proxy with China’s national interests … provided that you interpret China’s view of its interests as a zero-sum competition with the United States. So much for harmonious relations. Meanwhile, as the Downplayers held functional control of U.S. policy in Asia, we have moved further from the realization of America’s interests, not closer.

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The Obama administration initially appeared to accept the counsel of the Downplayers, but to its credit, it shows signs of having since learned that its obsequiousness toward China gained us nothing more than an intensification of human rights abuses, more Chinese bullying of its neighbors, and more money in Kim Jong Il’s bank accounts. Indeed, the main flaw in the Republicans’ criticism is that parts of it now seem stale — I mean, have you read what Hillary Clinton has said about China lately? It almost makes Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s words seem mild:

The Obama Administration has been ratcheting-up the rhetoric on China’s human rights record lately, especially since the arrest of the dissident Ai Weiwei, but Secretary Clinton, in our interview, went much further, questioning the long-term viability of the one-party system. After she referred to China’s human rights record as “deplorable” (itself a ratcheting-up of the rhetoric), I noted that the Chinese government seemed scared of the Arab rising. To which she responded: “Well, they are. They’re worried, and they are trying to stop history, which is a fool’s errand. They cannot do it. But they’re going to hold it off as long as possible.”

That is a welcome change. Deferential policies by both Obama and his predecessor, a slower learner when it came to perceiving China’s malicious intent, contributed to North Korea’s confidence that it could attack South Korea with diplomatic and financial impunity. China obviously concluded that there would not be tangible consequences for its own role in supporting and underwriting North Korea’s crimes, and nothing that the United States has done in the last two decades has really suggested otherwise. The effect of this has been to reinforce China’s arrogance, not its interest in compromise. Maybe what more members of Congress are thinking is that it’s time for a new approach that threatens to impose some consequences for China’s bad faith. Such as? Such as:

The United States is considering expanding sanctions on North Korea to the same level as those imposed on Iran. Legislation, called the ‘Iran, North Korea, and Syria Sanctions Consolidation Act of 2011′ that has been submitted to the US Senate, introduces tougher sanctions on the communist stateand aims to increase pressure on companies doing business with the North. The bill, which is currently imposed on Iran, would expand an asset freeze on companies, groups or individuals selling military goods or technology to Pyeongyang and ban their access to the US banking system.

The Senate bill, which you can read here, has bipartisan backing:

The bill to “expand sanctions imposed with respect to the Islamic Republic of Iran, North Korea and Syria and for other purposes” calls for the freezing of assets of any company trading technology and equipment with the countries and banning their access to the U.S. banking system.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the bill Monday with the sponsorship of 11 other senators. Among them are Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ). The bill comes one day ahead of the Obama administration’s announcement to blacklist Korea Tangun Trading Corp. of North Korea and 14 other foreign firms for their involvement in weapons of mass destruction programs in North Korea, Iran and Syria. North Korea has been under sanctions by the United Nations for its nuclear and missile tests.

The bill also coincides with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s ongoing tour of China, his third visit within a year, apparently to seek economic cooperation and China’s support for the third-generation power transition to his youngest son, Jong-un.

This looks like nothing more than a refined form of item six of Plan B, yet another idea whose time might just have finally come. Given the mood among House Republicans, who ran out of patience with China’s North Korea mischief years ago, there’s little question that they’d support a similar bill. The more interesting question now is whether the President is prepared to sign it into law.

Clearly, China is the country whose parastatals and businesses would be most affected by this legislation, which might be why China now feels the need to lie to us about all the pressure it’s really putting on North Korea. Alarmists will predict that sanctions like these would cause a dangerous financial rupture between China and the United States, but they forget that such a rupture would also be harmful to China economic and political stability. Even most Chinese entities that currently have investments in North Korea, faced with the choice of cutting their financial links to North Korea or the United States, would escape any ill effects by simply choosing the former. The consequence would be capital flight from the North Korean regime’s banks.

Bonus points for any guesses as to how this might affect Kaesong.

Update: The House introduces its bill, which is also bipartisan:

The bill, co-drafted by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) calls for the expansion and strengthening of sanctions against the so-called rogue states.

Among a set of stipulations in the bill is to tighten reporting requirements in the existing nonproliferation act to include information on persons who have acquired materials mined or otherwise extracted within the territory or control of the three nations.

It also sanctions any entity that is selling conventional military goods or technology to them.

“The continued collaboration between Iran, North Korea and Syria helps drive the dangerous programs and policies of each of these rogue states, and endangers the United States and our allies,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a press release. “The threats posed by these rogue regimes to free nations and to the oppressed people of these three countries grow every day.”

She added the measure will “strengthen laws already on the books which seek to prevent these rogue states from sending dangerous materials to one another, other rogues and extremist groups.”

Chinese companies are heavily involved in mining in North Korea, and those operations are a major source of income for Kim Jong Il, but without reading the bill, it’s hard to determine the effect it would have on those operations. The bill is still so new that the text isn’t on Thomas.

Photo from here.