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The End of an Ally: China is ‘not North Korea’s savior’

As China’s patience with North Korea is growing thin, China is questioning the ties with its 65-year long ally. “We have wiped North Korea’s ass for too long,” says General Wang Hongguang.

Manya Koetse

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As China’s patience with North Korea is growing thin, China is questioning the ties with its 65-year long ally. “We have wiped North Korea’s ass for too long,” says General Wang Hongguang.

How should China deal with North Korea? It is a central question in Chinese media this week, as two prominent figures in the China-North Korea debate publicly announced their perspectives on the future of the bilateral relationship. China has been the most important ally and friend to North Korea since the separation of the two Korea’s by the end of WWII. China supported the North during the Korean War (1950-1953) and has lent political and economic backing to its leaders since. China is not only North Korea’s  main trading partner, it also is its main source of food, energy and weapons (Xu & Bajoria 2014). Although the cost of subsidizing North Korea is high, the fear of a crumbling North Korean regime has been higher; North Korea’s implosion could lead to a stream of refugees into China and a security vacuum that would be filled by South Korea, Japan and the United States (Kornberg&Faust 2005, 165). But since North Korea has carried out its third nuclear test since 2006, the alliance between Beijing and Pyongyang has weakened. Instead, China’s relations to South Korea are gradually warming. It is at this time that Chinese media focus on China-North Korea ties. Over the past week, Chinese Korea specialist Li Dunqiu and retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lieutenant Wang Hongguang have both shared their views on the future of the China-North Korea alliance. Lieutenant Wang’s view is straightforward: “China is not North Korea’s savior.”

Recently, several Chinese scholars have suggested that China should renounce its relations with North Korea. On November 27th, Professor Li Dunqiu from Zhejiang University stated in the Chinese Global Times that China cannot simply give up its special 65-year long friendship to Pyongyang, since it is important to China in many ways. Not only is North Korea important to China as a strategic partner, it also is a communist ally that shares the same interests. Li states that giving up on North Korea could also pose a security threat to China: if North Korea crumbles, the United States might benefit from its weakness by gaining the strategic advantages it has been pursuing since the Korean War (Guancha 2014).

 

“China has wiped North Korea’s ass for too long,” says General Wang.

 

General Wang Hongguang disagrees with Li. He responded to the article on December 1st with his essay “China’s Non-Existent “Abandoning North Korea” Problem” (“中国不存在放弃朝鲜的问题 ). According to Wang, the entire debate boils down to one thing: North Korea was never really China’s true ally to begin with, so their ‘non-existent’ alliance cannot be renounced. Wang denies that Pyongyang and Beijing have the same interests. If that were the case, Wang argues, then North Korea would not possess nuclear weapons. These weapons are damaging Chinese territories through pollution and are posing a serious threat to the people of China. They also jeopardize the peace of the region. Beijing fears that North Korea’s possession of a nuclear bomb will trigger Japan to get its own nuclear weapons. A regional war could erupt, involving Russia, South Korea, Japan, North Korea, China, and the US. If these powerful nations all get involved in a Northeast Asian conflict, regional security is in serious danger. From this perspective, Wang wonders how Li could maintain that North Korea and China have the same interests: North Korean does not take China’s interests into account at all. “China has to think from its own perspective and has take a stance against North Korea harming our interests ,” says Wang: “We should not even think of it as ‘abandoning’ North Korea. China has wiped North Korea’s ass for too long.”  China should not go to war for North Korea, adds Wang: “China’s younger generations should not fight a battle for a country that is not theirs” (Guancha 2014).

 

mrwang

General Wang Hongguang (Guancha 2014)
 

North Korea is not China’s communist or socialist ally, according to Wang. Any ideological similarities North Korea and China once had, have disappeared since long. North Korea has developed in a vastly different direction than China has, and all of its political Marxist thoughts and principles have been replaced by those of Kim Il Sung. “It is not a real socialist country,” says Wang.

 

“China will not go to war for North Korea.”

 

Wang also denies North Korea’s significance as a strategic military partner to China because of its location, since the nature of war has changed due to globalization and the Information Age. Other factors, more important than location, have become crucial in building strategic relations.   

China should not get involved if North Korea crumbles, Wang concludes. If a regime is not supported by the people, it’s only a matter of time before it falls. China’s role in this issue should not be overestimated, says Wang: “China is not North Korea’s savior” (Guancha 2014).

 

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Xi Jinping and Kim Jong-Il meeting in Pyongyang, June 18, 2008 (Xinhua/Lan Hongguang)
 

References

Guancha. 2014. “解放军中将:朝鲜若崩溃中国救不了 中国人不必为朝打仗” Guancha [The Observer] 1 Dec http://www.guancha.cn/internation/2014_12_01_302090.shtml (Accessed Dec 1, 2014).   

Kornberg, Judith F. and John R. Faust. 2005. China World Politics: Policies, Processes, Prospects. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Xu, Beina and Jayshree Bajoria. 2014. “The China-North Korea Relationship.” Council on Foreign Relations, 22 Aug  http://www.cfr.org/china/china-north-korea-relationship/p11097 (Accessed Dec 2, 2014).

Featured image: Chinese propaganda poster from 1952: “Long live the North Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army!”, via http://www.163w.co/html/xch/cxrm.html

 

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[box type=”bio”]

koetse.148x200About the Author: Manya Koetse is the editor of What’s on Weibo. She’s a Sinologist who splits her time between the Netherlands and China. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Literary Studies, Japanese & China Studies and completed her MPhil in Asian Studies. Contact: manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.[/box]

©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

 

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