Jang, Raising the Bilateral Bar

The reason why Jang Sung Taek is now in China, a visit which was revealed in a brief Chosun Central News Agency (KCNA) dispatch yesterday afternoon, is a major source of interest in the South Korean media today.

According to yesterday’s KCNA report, “A delegation of the DPRK-China Joint Guidance Committee Monday left here for Beijing, China to take part in the third meeting of the committee.”

“The meeting is reportedly to discuss the joint development and joint management of Rasun Economic Trade Zone and Hwanggeumpyong and Wihwa Island Economic Zone,” it added.

The level of popular interest in Jang’s visit is a reflection of two things: first, his relative importance in the North Korean power structure, and second, the fact that he is the highest North Korean official to visit Beijing since the official launch of the Kim Jong Eun regime late last year. Both these facts serve to make it highly likely that the remit of the trip extends quite a long way past the economic agenda cited by KCNA, presumably to encompass political and military concerns as well.

According to one diplomatic source in Seoul, “Kim Jong Eun quite possibly assumes that China harbors some anxiety about his newly launched system. Jang will probably explain the recent purging of former Chief-of-Staff Lee Young Ho, since this only made China more concerned.”

Sohn Gwang Joo, a senior researcher with the Gyeonggi Research Institute, went further, declaring, “The main reason behind Jang’s trip to China is to emphasize that ‘Chosun-China friendship transcends generations’, and that without the political, economic and military support that comes from that friendship, the Kim Jong Eun system cannot be maintained.”

“When Jang Sung Taek meets with high-level cadres including Xi Jinping, the two will discuss the issue of a bilateral summit,” Sohn added, noting the likelihood that such a summit is likely to occur after China’s own leadership transition in October.

Lee Tae Hwan, a researcher with the Sejong Institute, noted also that there is certainly more to the visit than KCNA made public, explaining, “There are a bunch of people who can solve economic problems like those at Rasun, Hwanggeumpyong and Wihwa Island, it doesn’t have to be someone as influential as Jang Sung Taek.”

“Therefore, Jang’s trip to China is not a working-level visit. He is raising the level of bilateral communication.”

SHARE