Kim Jong Un’s third trip to China!

By Jerome A. Cohen

Today’s Washington Post reports that Kim Jong Un has made a third trip to China for meetings today and tomorrow. He ought to get a commuter ticket and is beginning to look like a Chinese yoyo! John Fairbank must be smiling from the grave at this blatant resurrection of the Sinocentric world.

For Kim Jong Un to do this, without more than talk of a reciprocating visit by Xi Jinping, the stakes and pressures must be very high! For those who debate the importance of personal diplomacy this series must have great interest. Tune in tomorrow! 

Trump-Kim summit: possibility of North Korea’s developing a credible legal system?

By Jerome A. Cohen

With all the speculation about what positive outcomes might emerge from the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit, we might include the possibility that steps might well be taken to establish a more credible legal system in the DPRK, if only to enhance its economic development and its felt need to establish business cooperation with other countries that have until now understandably shunned the North.

There is no doubt that there has long been DPRK interest in developing a credible legal system, at least for the purpose of attracting foreign business. Both from 1998 to 2001 at Beijing University and in 2013-14 at Hong Kong University, with the collaboration of the Asia Foundation, my NYU colleague Dr. Myung-Soo Lee and  I organized, on behalf of our US-Asia Law Institute, a series of occasional small training programs for North Korean business officials eager to learn how to attract foreign trade and investment to their country. Also, in 1998 I twice took foreign investors that had successfully done business in China to Pyongyang for preliminary business discussions.

While North Korean economic officials had considerable experience with ordinary export/import transactions, they seemed totally unprepared for the complexities of Foreign Direct Investment projects. When at the start of our 2013 sessions I asked the group what they wanted to learn, their initial response was “Why doesn’t Coca Cola want to invest in Korea?” I replied, my head in my hands, by saying “Where to begin?”

Although the North was generally super-cautious about not letting us know the fruits of our labors, I know that our 1998 effort did produce an international commercial arbitration law, and I believe the DPRK did subsequently establish a law firm in Pyongyang to advise on foreign-related business after we spent a couple of days visiting Chinese and foreign law offices in Beijing.

Business law inevitably introduces the notion of government under law. Although the North Korean officials were incredulous about the glamourous offices of one of China’s leading international law firms, they were really stunned when a less prosperous government-owned law firm told them that one of their functions in representing Chinese people was to sue the government for arbitrary violations of administrative law. The chief Korean delegate’s reaction was: ”We don’t have that concept in our country.” Yet we know from infrequent recent reports that some Pyongyang residents have protested against arbitrary actions by the secret police and that their government has tried to improve the situation..

It will be interesting and significant to see whether, in legal aspects as in others, the DPRK will finally follow the paths of China and Vietnam. 

Two important developments in China-North Korea relations and another significant DPRK human rights event

Increasing tensions in the North have led to two new under-discussed developments worth noting. The Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang has recently urged its citizens in the DPRK to return home because of the increased danger of attack. According to the May 2 Korea Times, one Chinese who took the warning seriously and returned home reportedly said that most Chinese in the capital were ignoring the message because the atmosphere there seemed peaceful despite the threats emitted in the global crisis. This is the first time such a warning had been issued, according to this informant.

Even more interesting is the April 26 report in Seoul’s “Daily NK” that the government has ordered the police, including the secret police, to “refrain from warrantless arrests” and house searches because such police crackdowns are not in accord with the intentions of the Party and estrange the people from the Party. People reportedly have recently shown intense resistance to the formerly unlimited exercise of police power. There is speculation that the authorities, in anticipation of possible Chinese cessation of oil supplies, may be trying to prevent internal unrest. But this restriction of the power of the secret police has supposedly had an adverse effect on the morale of the agents of the Ministry of State Security since some of them have been purged for apparently not heeding the restrictions out of “excessive loyalty” to Kim Jung-Un.

I have always wondered about how relatively unimportant the problem of illegal search and seizure has seemed to the Chinese people in comparison with other violations by police. 

Another human rights event worth noting is the DPRK’s first ever welcome to a Special Rapporteur appointed by the UN Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities arrived in North Korea today, May 2, for a six-day tour.


Letter to the NYT Editor on North Korea

Below is a response by me and Edward Baker to the New York Times March 8 op-ed on North Korea:

Talk With North Korea

MARCH 13, 2017

To the Editor:

Re “North Korea’s Scary Show of Strength” (editorial, March 8):

Your analysis and recommendation that only a new round of negotiations between the United States and North Korea “holds any reasonable promise of working” are correct, but you don’t mention the incentives necessary to get the North to return to the table.

The United States, instead of rejecting renewed negotiations, as it did on March 8, should make clear that it will be willing to discuss not only a halt to joint military exercises with the South and the installation of the Thaad missile defense system but also conclusion of a treaty that will finally formally end the Korean War.

In Churchill’s famous phrase, it is better to “jaw-jaw than to war-war.”


Mr. Cohen is faculty chairman at N.Y.U.’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute, and Mr. Baker is a special adviser at Harvard’s Korea Institute.

North Korea policy: how about some imaginative variant thinking?

Here’s a piece by Gordon Chang last week on North Korea, To Disarm North Korea, Wage Trade War On China, advocating waging a trade war with China to make it stop from supporting North Korea.

What about trying a different policy toward North Korea, going to the other extreme from Gordon Chang’s proposal? I refer to a systematic effort to bring the North Korean regime fully into the world community and meet its security needs.  US policies toward Vietnam, China, Burma, Cuba and even Iran have changed remarkably and favorably, with varying degrees of success. North Korea would be the ultimate challenge, and implementation would require enormous patience, imagination, flexibility, public education and expenditure of considerable political capital at home and abroad, especially in Northeast Asia. But no other course seems promising. On and off, I have had a number of contacts with the North since 1971, enough to make me think that such an unlikely suggestion may well be worth considering.