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North supports China on Hong Kong protests

Aug 13,2019
North Korea publicly sided with the Chinese government over its handling of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and continues efforts to appeal to U.S. President Donald Trump, while criticizing Seoul.

A spokesperson for the North Korean Foreign Ministry said Sunday Pyongyang “fully supports” the measures of the Chinese Communist Party and government “for defending the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the country and safeguarding the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”

The North’s rare statement comes as Hong Kong activists are staging anti-government rallies for the tenth consecutive week after demonstrations began in early June protesting a controversial bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China. Pyongyang’s public support of China is seen by observers as a message to Seoul and Washington.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson was responding to a question by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on the situation and went further to voice “concern” that “foreign forces have become outspoken in their attempt to destroy the security and order of the society of Hong Kong” and are also “interfering in the Hong Kong issue,” which it called “the internal affair of China.”

The North “opposes” and “rejects” such attempts, said the spokesperson.

“It is our principled stand that any county, organization and individual should not be allowed to destroy the sovereignty and security of China,” said this spokesperson, saying Pyongyang stands by the “one country and two systems.”

The North’s statement echoes the language of China on the situation in Hong Kong.

Hua Chunying, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, during a press conference on Aug. 2, said, “The Chinese government will never allow any foreign forces to have a hand in Hong Kong affairs,” adding that “Hong Kong affairs are entirely China’s internal affairs.”

She also added that the United States and some other Western governments have “played a very bad role in the situation in Hong Kong,” calling such behaviors “gross interference in China’s internal affairs.”

A Seoul government official said Monday, “The North Korean Foreign Ministry has not issued a statement on China through the KCNA this year or last year.”

When the North’s Foreign Ministry does issue a statement through state media, it is usually directed at Seoul or Washington.

But North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been careful not to ruffle U.S. President Donald Trump amid stalled denuclearization talks, sending him a personal letter last week, while coming down on South Korea recently over joint military exercises with the United States. Analysts view Pyongyang’s recent statement on the Hong Kong situation as a demonstration of its consideration toward Beijing.

Some analysts see Pyongyang to be expanding its diplomatic efforts to reach out to both G-2 countries following the Kim-Trump summit in Hanoi in late February, which fell apart. Chinese President Xi Jinping made a visit to Pyongyang in late June, for his fifth summit with Kim.

Since the Hanoi summit, North Korea has been coming down harder on the South, including through statements from its Foreign Ministry spokespersons.

“While North Korea appears to be criticizing the United States, Chairman Kim Jong-un continues dialogue with Washington through letter diplomacy,” said Cho Sung-ryul, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy. “Taking into consideration that China might not be pleased with such close contact between the North and the United States, it appears that the North Korean Foreign Ministry came to the forefront and is taking China’s side on its current biggest headache, the Hong Kong issue.”

BY SARAH KIM, BAEK MIN-JEONG [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]