Archive for China & Korea

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?