North Korea has completed, ahead of schedule, the "concrete frame project on the main production floor of a melting shop" of the Taean Friendship Glass Factory, According to a Dec. 11 report by the KCNA. The report adds, "Achievements made in the construction of the factory which will record another chapter in the annals of the DPRK-China friendship greatly encourage the Korean people in their dynamic drive to honor their national economic plans for this year with flying colors."
Now, while a glass factory seems minor news, particularly one that isn't even built or operational, I bring this up because the factory happens to be the only tangible piece of evidence provided by the KCNA a few days earlier for the so called "Year of Epochal Significance in DPRK-China Friendship."
A December 6 KCNA report of that title listed all the things that made 2004 an "epochal" year. They included:
1. The unofficial visit of leader Kim Jong Il to China in April ("a new milestone in the development of the bilateral friendship").
2. The visit by a delegation led by Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly of the DPRK, to China in October ("once again demonstrat[ing] the invariable stand of the Party and government of Korea to carry forward the friendship").
3. The visit of a delegation led by Wang Jiarui, head of the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, to the DPRK in January.
4. A visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing to the DPRK in March.
5. A visit by Li Changchun, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPC, to the DPRK in September.
6. The donation by China to North Korea of the Taean Friendship Glass Factory.
So basically Kim Jong Il went to China (or was summoned to Beijing), some Chinese folks came to the DPRK (mostly to put the squeeze on Kim to get with the program on the nuclear talks), and the Chinese gave a glass factory to the DPRK, which is now only partially built. And this constitutes an "epochal year" in bilateral relations. For two nations once "as close as lips and teeth," this seems a pretty poor representation of epochal relations.
China has had very conflicting feelings on North Korea in recent years, on the one hand using its historic relationship with Pyongyang to position itself as the key player in the nuclear negotiations (an attempt to gain unrelated concessions from the United States, South Korea and Japan), but on the other hand, with North Korea not playing entirely by China's rules, and providing the excuse for Japan's military re-alignment and more leverage for Washington than Beijing, the Chinese have been conflicted with how best to deal with their wayward neighbor.
So Pyongyang comes out, ever the optimist, and calls a relatively poor year for relations "epochal." Whatever it is they put in their Kimchi there, one wonders if that is what their diplomats got kicked out of Turkey for. But in the end, Pyongyang has little interest in being subservient to Beijing, but it does want to remain on China's good side and retain its position as a recipient of Chinese aid and assistance. And if that comes in the shape of a glass factory (as opposed to copious amounts of cash, oil and food that somehow Pyongyang failed to mention in the article), then so be it.