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Tracking Freedom Movements in South Asia, Central Asia and the Jasmine in China
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The Dandong Time Machine

The Dandong Time Machine | "Asian Spring" | Scoop.it
A Chinese village on the North Korean border offers an alternative view on the meaning of Kim Jong-il's death.

 

With the death of Kim Jong-Il, North Korea and China watchers have been engaged in some pretty intense Kremlinology, trying to make sense of elite politics in Pyongyang. But what do ordinary people living along the North Korean border think of the changes taking place inside their communist neighbor?

 

I took a trip to Dandong, a small Chinese port town on the North Korean border, to try a get a more bottom-up perspective on the hermit kingdom.

 

What struck me most was the sympathetic view many in Dandong took towards their neighbor. In Beijing, the standard reaction to questions about North Korea is pretty similar to the West: “They’re crazy” (tamen feng le), it’s hard to imagine life there.”

 

These kinds of responses are far less common in Dandong, whose residents can clearly see North Korea across the Yalu River and many of whom have been across the river to do business. Far more people told me things like “they’re really poor” and “they’re less developed than us.”

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"The King Is Dead Long Live The King"-Passing of North Korea's Kim Jong-il

"The King Is Dead Long Live The King"-Passing of North Korea's Kim Jong-il | "Asian Spring" | Scoop.it
DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il has died. CNS experts on North Korea are available for comment on the impact of Kim's passing.

 

Kim's third son, Kim Jong-un, is expected to succeed him as head of state. Kim Jong-un was introduced on October 10, 2010 to both domestic and international audiences when he oversaw a military parade that also displayed three never-before-seen missile systems. The younger Kim was also promoted to the rank of General (대장) in the Korean People's Army and Deputy Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Worker's Party in the days before the parade. His position on foreign policy, inter-Korean affairs, and the North's nuclear program is unknown, raising many questions about the path for the DPRK in a post-Kim Jong-il era.

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China 'shocked' by Kim Jong-Il death

China 'shocked' by Kim Jong-Il death | "Asian Spring" | Scoop.it
China 'shocked' by Kim Jong-Il death...

 

China expressed shock at the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il on Monday, as analysts said Beijing would do all it could to shore up its isolated neighbour and close ally.

 

The foreign ministry in Beijing said it hoped North Koreans would "remain united" after their leader's death, and pledged to help maintain "peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and the region".

 

"We are shocked to learn that DPRK top leader comrade Kim Jong-Il passed away and we hereby express our deep condolences on his demise and send sincere regards to the DPRK people," said ministry spokesman Liu Weimin, using the official name for the Stalinist state.

 

North Korea's official media announced on Monday that Kim, who suffered a stroke in 2008 but had appeared to recover, had died of a heart attack at the age of 69 and that his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, would succeed him.

 

Analysts said his sudden death would be a source of concern to China's leaders amid fears Jong-Un has not had enough time to cement control over the country's government and military.

 

Jong-Un, who is in his late 20s, was given senior ruling party posts and made a four-star general in September 2010, despite his lack of any military experience.

 

"I think China will be very concerned because they were very keen to see a smooth succession between Kim Jong-Il and Kim Jong-Un," said Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, a Beijing-based analyst for the International Crisis Group.

 

"The idea was Kim Jong-Il would be around for another couple of years and would be able to fully put into place the mechanisms necessary for a transition of power. They have got to make sure he (Jong-Un) doesn't stumble."

 

China is likely to strengthen support for its impoverished neighbour as it seeks to avoid a potentially destabilising power struggle in Pyongyang at a time when many of the country's 24 million people are starving, analysts said.

"It is dangerous in a sense that if the succession arrangement does not work there could be chaos," Professor Joseph Cheng of Hong Kong City University told AFP.

 

Beijing "certainly wants to avoid any kind of meltdown in North Korea because that would be destabilising along the border."

Observers in South Korea of the hermit state however dispelled fears of an immediate power struggle or a military coup.

 

"I think there will be no immediate turbulence in the North's internal politics or foreign affairs," said Paik Hak-Soon of Seoul's Sejong Institute think-tank. "The Kim Jong-Un era has already started."

University of California professor Susan Shirk said China would "do the most they can to be helpful," saying Beijing might also increase desperately needed aid to North Korea.

 

UN agencies have said that some six million people in the country urgently need food but a $73 million appeal for North Korea has only been 34 percent funded this year.

 

More than 21,700 North Koreans have fled their impoverished and hunger-stricken homeland since the 1950-1953 Korean War, the vast majority in recent years as the food shortage worsened.

 

They typically escape on foot to neighbouring China before travelling to a third country. Beijing is worried that if the North Korea regime were to collapse, China could be flooded with millions of refugees.

 

Kim Jong-Il visited China twice this year, most recently in August when he told Beijing he was ready to resume six-party nuclear talks without preconditions.

But analysts said the leader's sudden death at the weekend had dashed hopes of talks resuming any time soon.

"It will be some time before the new leaders of the DPRK will come back to the six-party talks," said Liu Youfa, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies, a government think tank.

 

"The domestic issues such as economic reforms are more pressing at the moment."

 

For several months there have been diplomatic efforts to restart the talks -- which also include the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea -- after the North quit the forum in April 2009, a month before staging its second nuclear test.

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