China’s Korean Policy Under Xi Jinping

Calling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program “an urgent national security threat and top foreign policy priority,” American officials are emphasizing the critical role of China in pressuring Pyongyang to denuclearize. President Donald Trump, who long criticized China for “having done little to help,” now praises Chinese leader Xi Jinping. But has China’s North Korea policy actually changed that dramatically?

Wang Jianwei photoThat’s the fundamental question Professor Jianwei Wang of the University of Macao will take up in a brown bag seminar presentation sponsored by the East-West Center Research Program Thursday, May 18, 2017. The seminar will take place from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. in Burns Hall room 3012.

Wang, who is currently a POSCO visiting fellow at the East-West Center, will examine the extent to which Xi Jinping’s Korean policy differs from the policies of his predecessors. In particular, he will look at Xi’s approach to balance relations with North Korea and South Korea, how his Korean policy influences Sino-American relations, and the prospects of more consequential cooperation between the United States and China on North Korea?

Jianwei Wang is a professor in the Department of Government and Public Administration and director of the Institute of Global and Public Affairs at the University of Macao. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. His teaching and research focus on Sino-American relations, Chinese foreign policy, and East Asian international relations. He has published extensively in these areas.

For further information, contact Cynthia Nakachi ( in the East-West Center Program Office.

North Korea’s Vinalon City

C. Harrison KimThe history of the synthetic fiber vinalon will be the subject of a lecture by Prof. C. Harrison Kim of the University of Missouri on Wednesday, February 22, 2017, in the UH Manoa Department of History seminar room, Sakamaki Hall A201. Kim’s talk–titled “North Korea’s Vinalon City: Industrialism as Socialist Everyday Life”–will begin at 12:30 p.m.

In the early 1960s, vinalon became North Korea’s national fiber, a product that symbolized the independence and ingenuity of its state socialism, from the raw materials needed to make it (coal and limestone) to the person who invented it (the Japanese colonial-era chemist Ri Sŭnggi). The Vinalon Factory near Hamhŭng City—a factory originally built by a Japanese chemical company and a city rebuilt by East Germany—also became a national emblem. Vinalon City was a transnational object par excellence, but it was immutably localized as everyday narrative for the ordinary North Korean people, replete with its labor heroes who achieved superhuman levels of productivity. The everyday dimension is precisely where the ideological workings of state power are hidden. The history of vinalon reveals a characteristic of ideology of work—the subsumption of life by labor—a characteristic that is certainly not limited to North Korea.

A graduate of Columbia University, Harrison Kim is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Missouri. His research interests include everyday life, industrial work, socialism, and the modern city in the context of Korea and, in particular, North Korea. Kim’s book, Furnace is Breathing: Work as Life in Postwar North Korea, forthcoming from Columbia University Press, is about industrial work as a defining ideological activity in North Korea’s socialism after the Korean War and about the workers who lived during the demanding times of postwar reconstruction.

A reception for students and faculty will follow the talk. For more information, contact the Department of History at (808) 956-8486.

Visualizing History: The Politics of North Korean Art

The Light of the People the Great Leader Kim Il Sung by Hong Sŏngch’ŏl, Kim Sŏngch’ŏl, and Hong Gŭnch’an (1990) illustrates the representation of history in North Korean art
The study of visual images can illuminate how a society reconstructs its past and present. Min-Kyung Yoon will explore this theme by examining the interplay of art, history, and politics in North Korea in a presentation titled “Visualizing History: The Politics of North Korean Art, 1966–1994.”

Yoon, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Korean Studies and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Department of History, will speak Thursday, September 29, 2016, at 4:00 p.m. at the Center for Korean Studies.

Yoon’s talk will explore the ways visual images write history in North Korea. As part of wider cultural production, art in North Korea is largely used to legitimate the North Korean state and its leaders. From the rise of a distinctive North Korean ink-and-brush painting in 1966 to the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994, Yoon will explore how history and the everyday were recreated in paintings to give visual form to a socialist imaginary far removed from the present reality yet essential for sustaining the state and its leaders. What emerges through this exploration is how ideology in North Korea, often perceived as constant, has changed, evolved, and engaged with the world.

Min-Kyung Yoon speaks on North Korean artMin-Kyung Yoon researches the visual arts of North Korea. She earned her Ph.D. at Leiden University in 2014. Previously she was a postdoctoral fellow at the École française d’Extrême-Orient. She earned her master’s degree in East Asia regional studies from Harvard University in 2006 and her bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Michigan in 2004. Her talk is sponsored by the Center for Korean Studies, the UH Department of History, and the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society.

For further information, including information on access for the handicapped, telephone the Center for Korean Studies at (808) 956-7041 or (808) 956-2212.

This program is supported by a Core University Program for Korean Studies Grant through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2015-OLU-2250005).

Sino-North Korean Relations

Kevin Gray speaks on Sino-North Korean relationsThe East-West Center Research Program will sponsor a lunch-time brown-bag discussion by POSCO Visiting Fellow
Kevin Gray Tuesday, August 23, 2016. Gray’s topic is “Sino-North Korean Relations and China’s Northeastern Development Strategy.” The program will take place from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. in Burns Hall room 3012.

Sino-North Korean relations may seem puzzling in that while China seeks to increase its influence in global economic and political governance, it nevertheless continues to pursue a strategy of engagement with North Korea despite increasingly stringent UN-mandated sanctions.

Analyses of China’s policy often neglect the ongoing multi-faceted transformation of the Chinese state since the late 1970s along with the profound rescaling of political authority in China, the diversification of public and private actors involved in relations with North Korea, and the multiple and often contradictory goals that those actors pursue. Also neglected is the question how the rescaling and decentralization of political and economic governance has exacerbated China’s uneven development and has raised issues of potential social unrest in China’s northeast.

China’s regional development projects, which have emphasized North Korea’s role as “geographical fix” to the relatively isolated provinces of the northeast have become an increasingly important vector in Sino-North Korean relations.

Gray will argue that in comparison to China’s ideological commitment to the country or its perceived utility in China’s increasingly tense standoff with the United States and its allies in Northeast Asia, more attention needs to be paid to regional development efforts in shaping the substance of China’s relations with North Korea. At the same time, he contends, relations between the two countries have become increasingly amorphous and ridden with contradictions and are, as a result, irreducible to any single geopolitical logic.

About Kevin Gray

Kevin Gray is a reader in international relations at the School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom. He researches North Korean development, Chinese-North Korean relations, and East Asian political economy more broadly. He is the author of Korean Workers and Neoliberal Globalisation (Routledge, 2008), Labour and Development in East Asia: Social Forces and Passive Revolution (Routledge, 2015); People Power in an Era of Global Crisis: Rebellion, Resistance, and Liberation, with Barry K. Gills (Routledge, 2012); and Rising Powers and the Future of Global Governance, with Craig N. Murphy (Routledge, 2013).

Spotlight on High-Profile Executions in North Korea

Rob York will discuss executions in North KoreaRob York, chief editor of a Web site specializing in news of North Korea, will discuss recent instances of high-profile executions in North Korea in a History Forum talk Thursday, April 28, 2016. Some of the executions have been described by credible sources as involving methods so grisly as shooting the victim at close range with anti-aircraft weapons.

York’s talk, titled “Public Executions and North Korea’s Right to Death,” will take place from 12 noon to 1:30 p.m. in the UH Mānoa Department of History library (Sakamaki Hall A201). The presentation is sponsored by the History Department and the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society.

In his talk, York will consider how the accusations and executions are connected to North Korea’s modernization process and the ruling Kim family’s adaptation of public pageantry. Black-market activities following the Great Famine of the 1990s contributed to these developments.

York, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Mānoa, is the chief editor for NK News (, which specializes in North Korea-related news and analyses. He previously spent four years at The Korea Herald reporting on topics including North Korean affairs.

The talk is free and open to the public. For further information, contact Prof. Peter H. Hoffenberg ( at (808) 956-8497.