What does Kim Jong Il’s death mean to Chinese?

Will the Korean Peninsula be caught in turbulences again after Kim Jong Il’s death? Will the new leader of North Korea initiate a transition process? How about the China-DPRK relationship then? Here are some answers to these tough questions from a Chinese on-line commenter.

Twitter ID @xiaomi2020

KCNA (Korean Central News Agency) announced the death of DPRK’s dictator Kim Jong Il on Dec. 19, which has triggered a huge wave of comments on Chinese micro blogging websites and media. Many of the bloggers think his death is a piece of good news, while some are making comparison between him and former Czech President Vaclav Havel as South Metropolis does, which is the most liberal media in China. New jokes are circulating again. For example, General Shaozhong Zhang used to talk about the peace of Korean Peninsula, while General Zhang’s comments on dictators are often proved to be wrong later. Now, General Zhang’s latest prediction about the “old friend of China” seemed go in the opposite way again. “Foreign Media Speculate Kim’s death Could Lead to Chaos”, which was the headline of government-owned Global Times yesterday, and it read as if there are conspiracies behind as the West is looking forward to this kind of chaos.

Well, I think there are other ways to interpret this piece of news.

North Korea has been China’s “Little Communist Brother” for over six decades. The snow-capped mountains on the other side of Yalu River (Amnok in Korea) used to be the battle fields and tombs for many Chinese soldiers during the Korean War. Today, North Korea is still relying on China, the only international ally of the Hermit State in the world community. There are many reasons why Chinese are paying so much attention to North Korea. But among all these factors, the most important one is the everlasting geopolitical issue. China is closing to North Korea’s border, which makes it one of our stakeholders. When North Korea collapses and influx of refugees emerges, should they be stopped flushing into China or not? Should we keep them in Dandong or send them back? If the unstable Kim’s family wants to fight with South Korea to retain in power, like firing artillery to Yeonpyeong island last year, will U.S. interfere? If it does, what will be China’s response?

Yet, We are not the decision-makers of Chinese foreign policies. Many of us just send tweets like “Yeah, the Fat Kim is dead finally.” But is that all we can say? If you live in Northeast China, you may think differently. Just as last year, I searched out a response from someone living in Northeast China saying “Don’t Fight! Shells are blind.” right after the Yeonpyeong crisis. And, if you are a taxpayer, you should know that China provides annually to North Korea 300-400 million dollars in aid, and we all have our share of burden. Besides, no one wants be surrounded by nuclear weapons, don’t even mention the unstable North Korea owns some of them as well. As a Chinese citizen, I see the line of today’s international and domestic affairs is blurring; today, public diplomacy weighs more than state diplomacy; one should not only participates locally, but also gets to know international affairs, and express his or her opinion given a chance. Moreover, the country we are talking about now is so special to China.

So, will the Korean Peninsula be caught in turbulences again after Kim Jong Il’s death? Will the new leader of North Korea initiate a transition process? How about the China-DPRK relationship then?

We must first consider the possibility of DPRK’s collapse and problems of refugees that caused, which is our worst scenario. We would like to see the new leader of DPRK, whoever it might be, is able to keep the situation under control. This has nothing to do with political attitude, just because it fits our best interest. Speaking of ideology, China and North Korea are not at the same page any more. There has been difference among the two so-called “brothers” since the late 1970s, when China started Opening and Reforming and wish North Korea can follow its suit, at least try to be self-depend economically, while North Korea has been insisting Military-first Policy because Kim Jong Il believed “small countries can only beat great powers by acting aggressively”. As to international relationships, China had hoped the ​​”six-party talks” as its stage to show influences and importance to its neighbors, but North Korea never followed any rules and prevented the six-party talks from yielding any tangible results. The other four parties- United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia – have doubted for a long time whether China can manage DPRK or not, which harms China’s international credibility as a result. The cables revealed by Wikileaks showed there were internal talks about “Giving up North Korea” in Beijing.

Let’s take a look of what happened in the two days right after Kim’s death on Dec. 17th but before the news is published on Dec. 19th. It was reported by Associated Press that an agreement has been made that U.S. will provide food aid to North Korea and North Korea will stop its uranium enrichment program. It seems no matter who is in control, deals have been made, at least for now. Comforting. And this deal sounds good for us. As long as there is no need to send troops from South Korea or U.S, it’s no big deal. If military confrontation does become an option, there must be someone, possibly the 28-year-old Kim Jong Un, who wants to keep power by acting aggressively. If it becomes serious, we will have to stand up and say: Don’t be stupid!

The old system of North Korea has come to an end. The Kim dynasty may come to its end as well. But it’s also possible that Little Kim would initiate the transition process. Though we started our own transition just three decades ago, our first or two steps moving ahead can be an encouraging example showing that it might be quite difficult, but it could also be unexpectedly successful. Now we definitely want to tell the people of North Korea: Change for good! But we probably must face one of the results of such transition – DPRK will be more and more distant to China as the post-communism countries usually would tun to nationalism to fill the ideological vacuum.

As there are some comments saying “once North Korea backs off, an unified Korean Peninsula would be led by today’s South Korea, which would emerge another pro-America government right in front of China’s doorstep. And we will fall into a trap – this time not a U-shaped, but a O-shaped one.” Come on, we are talking about people, living but hungry people. If North Korean people are awakening and liberated finally, we, Chinese will only feel happy for them. There never break out any large-scale war among democratic countries in the history yet as the governments are restrained by the high price to pay domestically and will have to pull back before it’s too late. Those who don’t want to see conflicts at our doorstep, please help change our own country to be more democratic. In my point of view, this is even better.

@xiaomi2020 is the founder and organiser of project “The Translators“.

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