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 coöper­a­tion 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.