The Associated Press reported today that Kim Jong Il has visited China "on a rare trip outside his country..."
It looks as if the six-country nuclear deproliferation talks the US had been having with North Korea have broken down. I continue to worry about this situation. There's a menace in their paranoia, as there is in every paranoia. The ruthlessness of North Korea bothers me very much too. Too many of the North Korean people--those out of uniform, that is--have been allowed to starve.
Why are they meeting with China? Leaders meet to coordinate. What is being coordinated?
What are China's concerns? At the moment, they are especially: 1) their economic concerns, especially with their rivals, India, Japan, and the USA; 2) their military buildup, and their military situation in their neighborhood; 3) their need for raw materials, especially energy supplies, upon which they've clashed with Japan recently.
Upon which of these concerns would they meet with North Korea? If it is 3), it is North Korea that will most likely receive any energy supplies, food and raw materials, rather than give them; as wikipedia.org mentions, North Korea has previously (and may in the future) received international food and fuel aid from China, South Korea, and the United States in exchange for promises not to develop nuclear weapons. In June 2005, the U.S. announced that it would give 50,000 metric tons of food aid to North Korea. The United States gave North Korea 50,000 tons in 2004 and 100,000 tons in 2003. On 19 September 2005, North Korea was promised food and fuel aid (among other things) from South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Russia, and China in exchange for abandoning its nuclear weapons program and rejoining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
So what would North Korea give in return for such food and fuel aid, especially now that nuclear deproliferation is off the table? What's in it for China?
If it is concern 1), then it would have to be a new economic initiative that was being discussed with North Korea. North Korea's economy has been sort of a shambles, and largely because of the lack of transparency that is communism's biggest problem. China has struggled with transparency, since the Hong Kong takeover. In order to succeed, their businesses must be transparent, and that means a free press. If not, corruption flourishes. North Korea won't like that free press, though. Again, from wikipedia.org:Mainland China and South Korea are the biggest trade partners of North Korea, with trade with China increasing 38% to $1.02 billion in 2003, and trade with South Korea increasing 12% to $724 million in 2003. It is reported that the number of mobile phones in P'yŏngyang rose from only 3,000 in 2002 to approximately 20,000 during 2004.
But--wait for it--As of June 2004, however, mobile phones became forbidden again.
Don't you love that??
So, this fascinates me. China is their staunchest ally, I think, so no surprise there, that they're the DPRK's biggest trading partner. But South Korea? Their ideological rival? At number two? Just as the People's Republic of China (mainland China) has developed such a huge trade with their implacable enemy, Taiwan, that many people (like The Economist and a reader or two of this blog? ;D) can't even imagine the two going to war. (Though I still think they may.)
South Korea and North Korea have recently had much thawing to their cold war relationship. I wonder if it's because a de facto trading partnership had blossomed, of necessity, leading them to think, well, now that we've got this trade going with one hand, does it make sense to prepare to fight each other with the other hand? South Korea has many times the GDP that North Korea has, and North Korea must trade mostly in its vicinity, with none of the high-end exports the South has (like South Korea's Hyundai and Daewoo autos, and its high-end electronics sector, with Samsung). So they have North Korea over a barrel on economics and trade. However, the North has more regular soldiers, perhaps twice as many as the South; plus those nukes. That's got to worry them. So each side has handled the other gingerly.
But--again, if China is meeting with the North to advance a new economic plan, then what's in it for China? Many communist countries (and the US) subsidized third-world countries during the Cold War, and sometimes the third-world countries were getting the sweeter end of the deal--see under Egypt--but it's not that way now. Again, now that the US is meeting with India and making a frankly military alliance with them, and now that Japan and China are clashing over natural gas reserves, China is meeting with Korea to secure:
Option 2). This is a military alliance, and we have only to wonder whether China and North Korea are simply meeting to keep the diplomatic lines of communication open, or whether they're planning something.
The AP report:
Report: N. Korean Leader Visiting China
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KWANG-TAE KIM Associated Press Writer
January 09,2006 | SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has traveled to China on a rare trip outside his country, a South Korean military intelligence official said Tuesday.
The official told The Associated Press he received the information from intelligence inside China. The official spoke on condition his name not be used because of the sensitivity of the information.
"We confirmed he went to China," the official said. "We don't know why."
Kim, who seldom travels abroad, last visited China in April 2004 for a summit with Chinese leaders. North Korea and China, both communist countries, have traditionally had close ties.
Chinese President Hu Jintao visited North Korea in October.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported earlier in a dispatch out of Beijing that the reclusive North Korean leader's train had crossed the border into eastern China amid tight security. The agency did not say where it got its information.
Kim's visit comes as North Korea on Monday sent its highest-level signal yet that international talks aimed at ending its nuclear programs are unlikely to resume soon, repeating its demand that the U.S. drop sanctions to end the impasse.
"Under the present situation it is illogical to discuss with the U.S., the assailant, the issue of dismantling the nuclear deterrent built up by the DPRK for self-defense," an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
DPRK refers to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the communist state's official name.
North Korea and the United States have been engaged since 2003 in negotiations aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs. Though the talks also involve China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, their progress is usually determined by the existing level of tension between North Korea and Washington.
In September, the United States imposed sanctions on a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau, alleging it helped the North distribute counterfeit currency and engage in other illicit activities.
The next month, Washington sanctioned eight North Korean companies it claimed were fronts for proliferating weapons of mass destruction.
China is under pressure from the United States and other governments to use its leverage as North Korea's main ally and aid donor to push Pyongyang for concessions.