[Global NK Commentary] The reality and challenges of North Korea-China relations near the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party and the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Friendship
23.Jul.2021 | Dong Ryul Lee
As 2021 is the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the 60th anniversary of the North Korea-China Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance (hereinafter referred to as the “Treaty of Friendship”), the relationship between China and North Korea is gaining attention anew. On July 1, Kim Jong Un, the leader of the Workers’ Party of Korea, sent China a congratulatory message and standing wreath in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the CCP and traded congratulatory remarks with President Xi Jinping on July 11 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship, reaffirming and emphasizing the importance of their relationship. Dialogue and interactions between the state leaders of China and North Korea hold more meaning than in other bilateral relations. As the COVID-19 pandemic has cut off not only interactions and meetings between leaders, but also those of high-level officials, the fact that the leaders of China and North Korea exchanged congratulatory messages is meaningful in itself.
Strategic intentions behind North Korea’s “congratulatory
messages that emphasized “socialist solidarity” with China
The leaders affirmed through their messages that the Treaty of Friendship laid “important political and legal foundations for consolidating the cooperative friendship”. They also emphasized that the two countries have strengthened their traditional relationship built on the blood of the people of both countries and brotherhood, stating that they “strengthened and developed the consolidation of socialist causes of the two countries and made important contributions to the regional and global peace and stability for the past 60 years”. The two countries exchanged congratulatory messages that were formal and similar to remarks made in the past to mark the 60th anniversary of the friendship treaty.
However, the domestic and foreign circumstances under which China and North Korea have exchanged congratulatory messages are unique. To illustrate, the US-China conflict and competition has peaked and tensions surrounding the North Korean nuclear problem are increasing every day. North Korea faces isolation and adverse economic conditions and China is solely focused on domestic political events in the run-up to the 20th National Congress of the CCP in 2022 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the messages exchanged are similar to previous ones, the meaning conveyed may vary as the Korean Peninsula is currently in a complicated and unique situation. It has become increasingly clear that North Korea-China relations are no longer an independent variable but a dependent one affected by the U.S. and U.S.-China relations. As such, one must look beyond just North Korea and China and factor in the U.S. as a variable to see the true nature of their relationship. In fact, the congratulatory messages contain subtle yet important content referring to the “U.S. factor.”
The message that Kim Jong-un sent, in particular, contains unprecedented important content. Kim stated in his message that “the challenges and distractions by hostile forces are becoming more vicious”, which is in fact targeting the U.S. with harsh and straightforward expressions, previously unused. Kim had also attacked the U.S. in a similar way in the message he sent celebrating the CCP’s 100th anniversary. In the message, he stated that “hostile forces' vicious slander and all-round pressure onto the CCP are no more than a last-ditch attempt”. An editorial on the front page of the North Korean newspaper Rodong Sinmun reads, “As imperialists now have united and are plotting to isolate and crush socialist countries, North Korea and China must unite in accordance with the spirit and principles of the treaty and further develop their friendly relations.” It seems that Kim was showing his support by agreeing enthusiastically to President Xi Jinping. Xi said in his 100th anniversary commemorative address that “we will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people”.
Kim is choosing to emphasize North Korea’s traditional comradeship and friendly cooperation with China while harshly condemning the U.S. and remaining indifferent to the Biden administration’s offer for dialogue. Pyongyang is explicitly expressing its support for Beijing, which is currently in conflict with the U.S., and showing off their solidarity. It is also notable that North Korea is setting America’s offensive stance from the standpoint of conflict between imperialism versus socialism and emphasizing strong socialist ties between itself and China.
North Korea may be stressing its cooperation with China due to several strategic reasons. First, North Korea may be especially emphasizing its ‘socialist unity’ with China because it looks at the CCP’s 100th anniversary as an opportunity to strengthen the foundation of its socialist system. Rather than jumping headfirst into unpredictable and uncertain dialogue with the U.S., it may be more important for North Korea, currently undergoing a crisis due to COVID-19 and economic difficulties, to fortify the foundations of its internal system. Second, North Korea may be aware of the reality that if they cannot expect immediate benefits, such as sanctions relief and financial aid, from dialogue with U.S., they have no choice but to side with China. North Korea may have felt the need to receive as much cooperation and aid as it can from China by bolstering its cooperative relations to solve urgent matters in the short term. Third, it may be a cunning strategy to hide North Korea’s intentions. By parading and strengthening its cooperation with China, North Korea may plan to stabilize its internal situation and prepare to negotiate with the U.S. by provoking them.
The meaning and limitations of changes in North Korea-China
relations through ‘congratulatory message diplomacy’
On the other hand, China has not stressed the ‘U.S. factor’ to the extent that North Korea did in their congratulatory message diplomacy. Unlike Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping did not mention or refer to the U.S. at all in his message congratulating the 60th anniversary of the signing of the friendship treaty. Rather, the Chinese state-run media left out abrasive expressions directed at the U.S. when reporting the congratulatory messages Kim sent for the CCP’s 100th anniversary and the treaty’s 60th anniversary to the public. However, there is no mistaking that the ‘US factor’ is an important variable to China even as they highlight their friendly cooperative relationship with North Korea. The “procurement of friendly nations” has become an important diplomatic strategy for China in its response to competition with the Biden administration. As the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the CCP is an important political event, the full support of North Korea as a fellow socialist state carries weight.
However, from China’s perspective, North Korea is a strategically complex and tricky ally as it is both a strategic asset and burden. It is inevitable that the entire Korean peninsula’s geopolitical value will soar from China’s standpoint, should things become tenser with maritime powers such as the U.S. On the other hand, it is also true that North Korea frequently causes trouble on the Chinese border with issues such as the North Korean nuclear issue and economic difficulties. Additionally, China’s strategic concerns intensified in 2018 when it saw that North Korea could radically change its relationship with the U.S. Although China does not wish for its conflict with the U.S. to spread to other areas over North Korea and its nuclear program, it is necessary for China to maintain its ties with North Korea to cope with sudden changes on the Korean peninsula brought upon by the instability of the North Korean regime, North Korea’s provocations, and improvements in the U.S.-North Korea relations.
Through its congratulatory message diplomacy, North Korea is flaunting its cooperation with China in an unprecedented way. China, however, is not responding to North Korea’s actions with the same level of enthusiasm, nor is showing signs of changing its stance towards North Korea and its nuclear program. In short, North Korea and China shared a common motivation to cooperate in order to counter the U.S. However, congratulatory message diplomacy makes it clear that China and North Korea each interpret the ‘U.S. factor’ differently. China’s policy towards North Korea is affected more by structural factors than changes in the two countries’ relations. That being the case, the fact that China and North Korea are showing off their socialist unity by exchanging messages does not mean they have become strategically closer with one another.
Circumstances regarding the Korean Peninsula are very unstable, with North Korea increasingly isolated, its nuclear negotiations stalled, and the escalation of the power race between the U.S. and China. Resolving such instability and tensions on the Korean Peninsula is of utmost priority as of now. Resuming U.S.-North Korean and inter-Korean dialogue would be best, but if it is infeasible in the near future, we would have to look forward to the small but new changes in North Korea-China relations creating a breakthrough. If strengthening ties between China and North Korea help North Korea find some relief from isolation and its financial problems and further stimulate U.S.-North Korean dialogue, such conditions could help stabilize the situation on the Korean peninsula. Of course, efforts to use the temporary breakthrough made through North Korea-China relations in ultimately opening the doors to inter-Korean dialogue will be key. ■
Typeset by Kwang-min Pyo Senior Researcher For inquiries: 02 2277 1683 (ext. 203) I firstname.lastname@example.org
[Research Reviews - Project] Research on inter-Korean cooperation measures such as unique technologies and strong technologies that lead the recent change in North Korea and human resources related thereto
13.Jul.2021 | EAI
North Korea has recently been in continuous pursuit of policies centered on science and technology and has emphasized science, technology, and ICT through the amendment to the constitution (July 2019) and major meetings such as meeting of the political bureau of the party, and the plenary session of the Central Committee. As a preparatory procedure to strengthen the synergy of inter-Korean cooperation and achieve inter-Korean cooperation in the fields of science and technology and information and communication using characteristics and strengths of North Korea’s science industry, this report analyzed the characteristics of North Korea's science and technology and conducted research on North Korea’s relative strengths to identify the status of North Korea’s science and technology and reviewed institutional measures for inter-Korean cooperation.
Review of Characteristics and Strengths
of North Korea’s Science and Technology
To this end, the project utilized the "North Korea Science and Technology Network" (www.nktech.net), a compilation of North Korea’s science, technology, and relevant information and identified science and technology introduced in North Korean science journal “Gwahakwon Tongbo (Bulletin of the Academy of Science, DPRK)” and other academic journals in each field, “Balmyong Gongbo”(Official journal of invention) issued by the Invention Office under the State Science and Technology Commission, and news media outlets such as “Rodong Sinmun,” “Minju Joson,” “Korean Central News Agency,” and the like. Through such efforts, this report derived science and technology broadcast on media listed under “National Science and Technology Achievements,” “High-tech products,” and research awarded with the “2.16 Award of Science and Technology,” the highest honor bestowed on workers in the field of science and technology. Additionally, this report compiled 982 papers (as of July 21, 2021) published by North Korean scientists in international academic journals listed on the Web of Science (SCIE). Keyword trees, macro analyses were conducted on the aforementioned papers introduced in international academia and the papers were classified according to the time of publication, author, and technologies.
The research evaluated the value and level of North Korea’s technology identified through informetric analyses conducted by experts in the fields. It thereby examined what areas of technology in North Korea would be promising for inter-Korean exchange and cooperation.
Through such methodology, the research compiled 446 major research and development achievements from North Korea's academic journals, press releases, and web materials. Researchers selected 40 areas of technology for intensive analysis with a comprehensive evaluation of information emphasized, number of repetition, and level of the literature. For the 40 technologies, the service additionally tracked literature, identified trends, and investigated the degree of relevance to North Korea's major state administration.
As a result, the report could confirm the presence of a correlation between the achievements in research and development, which are considered excellent in North Korea and mentioned a lot in North Korea's domestic literature, and North Korea's major national goals. Of the 40 technologies subject to the intensive analysis, the percentage of those pertaining to agricultural and livestock performances was the highest with a total of nine technologies. This field is directly related to the resolution of food problems, an area that North Korea has consistently emphasized since Kim Jong-un took office. It was also noticeable that within the field of agriculture and livestock, there was a high proportion of research based on advanced fields such as nanotechnology and biotechnology. The frequency of achievements in the field of power and energy followed that of the field of agriculture and livestock with a total of six technologies. This is also an area that North Korea has emphasized as a means of improving the lives of the people.
The analysis also showed that the majority of authors are affiliated to the State Academy of Science, Kim Il-sung University, and Kim Chaek University of Technology and that these institutions account for the largest proportion in North Korea’s research and development. The State Academy of Science, the largest and best research institution in North Korea accounted for 15 technologies, the highest among others, out of the 40 technologies chosen for intensive analysis. Kim Il-sung University accounted for nine and Kim Chaek University of Technology accounted for eight.
According to the analysis, North Korean scientists have introduced key technologies such as manufacturing technology of amino acid trace element complex fertilizer, active electric boilers with a higher efficiency than regular electric boilers, oxygen-smokeless pulverized coal ignition and combustion stabilization technology (oil-free ignition technology) for lower costs in power production.
Among these identified technologies, the researchers conducted core technology level evaluations for active electric boilers, underground hypersaline water, and nano-diamond powders for lightning arresters, which are unique technologies developed by North Korea. During this process, peer reviews were conducted by a panel of experts, including government-funded research institutes, members of the Unification Science and Technology Research Council, and university professors. As a result, the active electric boiler technology was evaluated to be worth utilizing due to its relatively high level of completeness and utilization rate. In the case of underground hypersaline water technology, the level of research was not that high, but it was analyzed that it could be used after further improvements in the technology. On the other hand, the precision and reliability of the metal oxide lightning arrestor technology was not high in terms of precision or reliability of experimental data, so it was evaluated that there was a problem regarding the likelihood of its utilization.
Policy Suggestions on Inter
-Korean Scientific and Technological Cooperation
Along with technical evaluations, the report also makes policy suggestions on inter-Korean scientific and technological exchange and cooperation for areas of strength in North Korea’s technology and manpower. Since North Korea is currently under sanctions from the international community, the research report predicted that scientific and technological cooperation will be possible in the realms of exchange of intellectual property rights and information. For such realms, both Koreas are relatively unlikely to violate sanctions against the North. The report also suggested that South Korea should consider the possibility of the South Korean science and technology sector participating in the Economic Development Zone and Advanced Technology Zone, which North Korea pursues to support policy-wise, in order to encourage North Korea’s participation. Furthermore, the report also suggested the need to systematize and specialize North Korean science and technology information projects by establishing an "inter-Korean science and technology exchange center" (tentative name) to accurately understand the status of North Korea's science and technology industry. The report predicted that such an institutional approach would also require legal and institutional maintenance to ensure policy support for individuals and businesses seeking to utilize North Korean technology within the existing domestic legal framework.■
Typeset by Kwang-min Pyo Senior Researcher For inquiries: 02 2277 1683 (ext. 203) I email@example.com