Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on telegram
Share on whatsapp
Share on linkedin
Share on print
Share on email

Elite Politics Watch: Decoding China’s ‘Secret Document’ on North Korea

◎ We’ve identified nine questionable points about the “secret document.”

On Jan. 2, the Washington Free Beacon published an “internal party document” by the General Office of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee. The Sept. 15 document, which was labeled “top secret,” indicated that China would increase aid and military support to North Korea should Pyongyang halt further nuclear testing.

When asked about the document, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson called it “fake news.”

Why it matters: If the “secret document” is authentic, it will cast suspicion on the Xi Jinping administration’s public commitment to work towards the denuclearization of North Korea. The Trump administration could also be forced to reevaluate its China policy.

The big picture:  

1. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are rising, and the Trump administration has signaled in recent weeks that it is preparing to use the military option against North Korea. The United Nations has also stepped up sanctions against North Korea for its nuclear provocations.

2. In late December, U.S. spy satellites spotted Chinese vessels illegally selling oil to North Korean ships in the South China Sea.

3. On Dec. 28, President Donald Trump tweeted: “Caught RED HANDED – very disappointed that China is allowing oil to go into North Korea. There will never be a friendly solution to the North Korea problem if this continues to happen!”

4. On Dec. 29, South Korea announced that it had seized a Hong Kong-registered ship that was transferring oil to a North Korean vessel. South Korean authorities detained the 23 Chinese nationals and two Burmese nationals on board the Hong Kong ship.

Our take:

1. The “secret document” was published after Chinese vessels were caught transferring oil to North Korean ships, a rather “convenient” timing. Regardless of the document’s authenticity, its publication points towards a serious fracture in the Chinese leadership on the North Korean issue and suggests an escalation in an ongoing factional struggle (neidou). A plausible motive behind the document’s publication could be to drive a wedge between Trump and Xi Jinping, who appear to enjoy a cordial friendship.

2. We’ve identified nine questionable points about the “secret document”:

2.1. There are atypical wording and phrasing errors in the document. For instance, the document made a typographical error for the characters “to oppose” (“dui chi” instead of “dui zhi”). While the characters sound similar in Mandarin, top-level aides (mishu) at the General Office do not make such trivial typographical mistakes.   

Also, the phrase “Party-led socialism with Chinese characteristics system” (dang ling dao de zhong guo te se she hui zhu yi zhi du) as written in the opening lines of the document has never before appeared in other publicly available documents.

2.2. The General Office handles the Central Committee’s secretarial and logistical work, such as disseminating decisions made by the top Chinese leadership to other departments. The General Office can make and issue decisions to its subordinate departments, but not for other departments. Yet the “secret document” title states that it is a General Office decision to “coordinate” work on the North Korea nuclear issue, implying that other departments apart from the General Office are involved. The document itself calls on the International Liaison Department to coordinate the operations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce, a decision that falls outside the General Office’s purview.

2.3. The International Liaison Department and the General Office are both ministerial-level agencies and are not subordinate to each other. In other words, the General Office has no authority to direct the International Liaison Department to implement its decision.

2.4. As mentioned above, the “secret document” tasked the International Liaison Department to coordinate the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Commerce. Yet the foreign ministry and the commerce ministry, which are set to play key roles in the “North Korea work,” were not included in the list of departments that the document should be forwarded to in the appropriate section at the bottom of the document, a glaring omission.

2.5. The “secret document” states that Beijing’s order for Chinese banks to stop doing business with North Korea is only limited to “banks directly controlled by Party central and regional banks.” However, the Party doesn’t directly control the Big Four state banks. Rather, the state-owned banks come under the purview of the State Council via the Ministry of Finance and Central Huijin Investment.

2.6. According to the “secret document,” China is offering to improve North Korea’s “defensive military build-up” (the Chinese characters “jian she” refers to more than just static “construction”) by supplying Pyongyang with “advanced mid- and short-range ballistic missiles” and “high-end military science and technology.”

China’s mid-range DF-21 missile has a range of about 1,300 kilometers while the DF-25 missile has a range of 3,200 kilometers. This means that China’s mid-range missiles hardly qualify as “defensive” weapons since South Korea and Japan are well within range of a North Korean attack. The U.S. island territory of Guam is also barely within range, something that America won’t tolerate.

2.7. The “secret document” is allegedly published on Sept. 15, and its cover page notes that it is the 94th document being issued by the General Office in 2017. However, an unclassified General Office document issued on Sept. 19 is labeled as the 55th document of the year.  

2.8. The “secret document” as made available by the Free Beacon is missing the mandatory 2D barcodes that should be affixed to all official documents.

2.9. The “secret document” doesn’t adhere to the standard layout (reference number GB/T9702-2012) for official documents. For instance, the serial number on the upper left-hand corner of the cover page of official documents is not prefixed with a “No.” as in the “secret document.”

3. Bill Gertz, the author of the Free Beacon “secret document” article, had moderated an event by fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui at the National Press Club on Oct. 5. During that event, Guo circulated a “secret document” that was just as unverifiable and irregular as the one that Gertz had written about in his Jan. 2 article.

Guo may or may not be the provider of the “secret document” on North Korea. Regardless, we believe it is worth repeating our earlier caution: “If anyone at this point in time still buys into Guo Wengui’s claims, they may find themselves caught in an international controversy, just like the Voice of America.”

Search past entries by date
“Unique insights are available frequently from the reports of Sinoinsider.”
Michael Pillsbury, Senior Fellow for China Strategy, The Heritage Foundation
“Thank you for your information and analysis. Very useful.”
Prof. Ravni Thakur, University of Delhi, India
“SinoInsider’s research has helped me with investing in or getting out of Chinese companies.”
Charles Nelson, Managing Director, Murdock Capital Partners
“I value SinoInsider because of its always brilliant articles touching on, to name just a few, CCP history, current trends, and factional politics. Its concise and incisive analysis — absent the cliches that dominate China policy discussions in DC and U.S. corporate boardrooms — also represents a major contribution to the history of our era by clearly defining the threat the CCP poses to American peace and prosperity and global stability. I am grateful to SinoInsider — long may it thrive!”
Lee Smith, Author and journalist
“Your publication insights tremendously help us complete our regular analysis on in-depth issues of major importance. ”
Ms. Nicoleta Buracinschi, Embassy of Romania to the People’s Republic of China
"I’m a very happy, satisfied subscriber to your service and all the deep information it provides to increase our understanding. SinoInsider is profoundly helping to alter the public landscape when it comes to the PRC."
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Prof. Ming’s information about the Sino-U.S. trade war is invaluable for us in Taiwan’s technology industry. Our company basically acted on Prof. Ming’s predictions and enlarged our scale and enriched our product lines. That allowed us to deal capably with larger orders from China in 2019. ”
Mr. Chiu, Realtek R&D Center
“I am following China’s growing involvement in the Middle East, seeking to gain a better understanding of China itself and the impact of domestic constraints on its foreign policy. I have found SinoInsider quite helpful in expanding my knowledge and enriching my understanding of the issues at stake.”
Ehud Yaari, Lafer International Fellow, The Washington Institute
“SinoInsider’s research on the CCP examines every detail in great depth and is a very valuable reference. Foreign researchers will find SinoInsider’s research helpful in understanding what is really going on with the CCP and China. ”
Baterdene, Researcher, The National Institute for Security Studies (Mongolian)
“The forecasts of Prof. Chu-cheng Ming and the SinoInsider team are an invaluable resource in guiding our news reporting direction and anticipating the next moves of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.”
Chan Miu-ling, Radio Television Hong Kong China Team Deputy Leader
“SinoInsider always publishes interesting and provocative work on Chinese elite politics. It is very worthwhile to follow the work of SinoInsider to get their take on factional struggles in particular.”
Lee Jones, Reader in International Politics, Queen Mary University of London
“[SinoInsider has] been very useful in my class on American foreign policy because it contradicts the widely accepted argument that the U.S. should work cooperatively with China. And the whole point of the course is to expose students to conflicting approaches to contemporary major problems.”
Roy Licklider, Adjunct Professor of Political Science, Columbia University
“As a China-based journalist, SinoInsider is to me a very reliable source of information to understand deeply how the CCP works and learn more about the factional struggle and challenges that Xi Jinping may face. ”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“SinoInsider offers an interesting perspective on the Sino-U.S. trade war and North Korea. Their predictions are often accurate, which is definitely very helpful.”
Sebastien Ricci, AFP correspondent for China & Mongolia
“I have found SinoInsider to provide much greater depth and breadth of coverage with regard to developments in China. The subtlety of the descriptions of China's policy/political processes is absent from traditional media channels.”
John Lipsky, Peter G. Peterson Distinguished Scholar, Kissinger Center for Global Affairs
“My teaching at Cambridge and policy analysis for the UK audience have been informed by insights from your analyzes. ”
Dr Kun-Chin Lin, University Lecturer in Politics,
Deputy Director of the Centre for Geopolitics, Cambridge University
" SinoInsider's in-depth and nuanced analysis of Party dynamics is an excellent template to train future Sinologists with a clear understanding that what happens in the Party matters."
Stephen Nagy, Senior Associate Professor, International Christian University
“ I find Sinoinsider particularly helpful in instructing students about the complexities of Chinese politics and what elite competition means for the future of the US-China relationship.”
Howard Sanborn, Professor, Virginia Military Institute
“SinoInsider has been one of my most useful (and enjoyable) resources”
James Newman, Former U.S. Navy cryptologist
“Professor Ming and his team’s analyses of current affairs are very far-sighted and directionally accurate. In the present media environment where it is harder to distinguish between real and fake information, SinoInsider’s professional perspectives are much needed to make sense of a perilous and unpredictable world. ”
Liu Cheng-chuan, Professor Emeritus, National Chiayi University