“The North Koreans are not a reasonable people,” Ms. Lee said at the beginning of our trip. It was less a warning than a statement of fact.
The bus tour of the Korean Demilitarized Zone—the four-kilometer-wide ribbon of land that bisects the Korean Peninsula—left from downtown Seoul at eight in the morning but had begun raining long before. The travel agency was clear about the dress code: “No faded or torn jeans, sandals, leather pants, shorts, sleeveless shirts, sweatpants, slippers, or military-style clothing.”
As a China watcher, the most remarkable aspect about the recent death of North Korea’s hereditary Dear Leader is the level to which it has exposed the Chinese media’s divorce from reality. Last night before bedtime, a CCTV news anchor read out a complete list of branches of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army, Navy and Airforce, and all major government ministries, all of whom “stand in solidarity with our North Korean comrades.” Finally, as an afterthought, she mentioned that the Chinese people shared in the grief of North Koreans, and offered their condolences at the passing of their leader, and their support for his heir, a man qualified only in happening to be his predecessor’s son. How very socialist.
Two hours prior to the anchor’s emotively-worded but utterly deadpan performance (which, along with her tearfully hyperbolic North Korean counterpart, deserve Oscar nominations), I had been discussing humorous cat anecdotes with a few of the Chinese people at my local gym. One of them, coincidentally, was a CCTV presenter, who told us her cat had learned to move its feces from its litter tray and onto the kitchen floor, thereby incriminating her pet dog. My boyfriend joined in the discussion. That afternoon, he had stood up in his office to announce the death of Kim Jong-il, China’s great pal, the guy whom the CCP never gets tired of shielding, and was met with utter indifference. “I don’t care about him,” remarked his deskmate. “I’m busy.”
Kim Jong-il’s unprefaced, unofficial visit to China last week was the diplomatic equivalent of a drunk dial, with both parties behaving awkwardly, saying things they don’t really mean, and then pretending to forget the incident, or, in the case of North Korea, deliberately misremembering events.