Red Glare: Chinese Responses to the DPRK’s Launch

By | December 18, 2012 | No Comments

While this didn't happen, Japan shopting down a DPRK missile drew much Chinese attention as something harmful to Chinese security.

Figure 1: The prospect of Japan shooting down a DPRK missile drew Chinese attention as an act that would be distinctly harmful to Chinese security.

The pace of events accelerates in and around on the Korean peninsula, threatening to submerge even the observer with themes that each demand investigation. Each assertion of a new reality prompts a question: Does Ri Sol-ju’s burgeoning pregnancy indicate that Kim Jong-un and his fellow North Koreans are planning for a fourth generation of Kim family leadership?  [1]

Of course when it comes to China (and it always comes back to our favorite would-be regional hegemon), the questions become more contingent, and they are just as baffling: Why would China bash North Korea publicly and then protect the DPRK at the United Nations? Does North Korea have true friends in the CCP Standing Committee, or just temporary allies? Will the CCP make a push for a more collective leadership in the DPRK as 2017 approaches? Who are the top North Koreans entrusted with doing business in Northeast China, and why is Rodong Sinmun showing off their beautiful fur coats? Are the Special Economic Zones near the Chinese border actually going to be fully built, or are they just a moribund sideshow? Why is the Dandong Party Secretary, and not the government in Beijing, running the show in the Yalu River Estuary? Why is the Chinese Ambassador a despised figure in Pyongyang? Why did China open up a “Chamber of Commerce” right in the middle of a major commercial dispute with the North Koreans last spring? When is the next tour of the Sea of Blood ensemble to the PRC? Does Xi Jinping have any intention of wiggling China’s position on North Korean refugees and border controls in the Northeast? How vigorous is the intelligence cooperation between the two states in the border region? Why are Chinese Koreans suddenly encouraged to enjoy North Korean films in Yanji? Why did the North Koreans build a huge statue of Zhou Enlai in Hamhung? And what happened to the netizen hornet’s nest when the North Koreans launched their missile eons ago (i.e., last week)?

In true Chinese fashion, the questions you ask have very little to do with the answer you receive. As with so many things in China, the answer was an unexpected one: Japan. Take a journey through some of the stories below, and the graphic above, and you will see why. — Adam Cathcart, Chief Editor

Red Glare: Chinese Responses to the DPRK’s Launch

by Adam Cathcart, Roger Cavazos and Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga

Now that North Korea has successfully launched a surrogate missile satellite and corks are popping for the DPRK around the world, we thought it might be useful to bring forward a representative sample of what the Chinese-language web said about the launch.  After all, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was said to be upset about action and wants to make its displeasure known with the DPRK. The domestic press is an ideal means of sending multiple messages to audiences ranging from the DPRK attaches in Beijing, to the PLA itself, to politically interested but underemployed netizen in a second-tier Chinese city.

The selections below are meant to give a sense of Chinese views just prior to and shortly after North Korea’s successful launch.  We also included some material from the April  2012 failed test for comparison.  Each article has a very brief summary and a rough translation of the Chinese title.  For some Chinese criticism of the DPRK pre-launch, we brought you a full translation and in-depth analysis in our previous post entitled “Don’t Fear the Tiger.” Finally, graphics give our non-Chinese speakers an added purchase into the topic, and give a clear idea of what was meant to be conveyed visually: stark reality, menacing threat, glorious scientific geekery.

Huanqiu Shibao Op-eds

1) Lv Chao, 朝鲜射星成功,又给日右翼提供了借口 (“North Korean rocket launch succeeds, but it also gives Japanese rightists pretext”). Lv Chao is one of China’s top North Korea hands, and a reliable proxy for generally CCP views about how to deal with North Korea. With this op-ed, Lv follows the general line of Chinese coverage of the launch that placed it not in the sphere of UN sanctions or nuclear tests, but firmly as a step that would provoke Japan to become more overtly defensive and security-minded.

2) Geng Xin, 日本为何“怕”朝鲜?(“How can Japan ‘fear’ North Korea?”) Geng Xin, who runs a CCP overseas organization in Tokyo and is a regular commentator on Sino-Japanese relations, published his op-ed in Huanqiu Shibao on December 6, focusing on Japan’s fear of North Korea and calling the bilateral relationship “Asia’s most tense.”  After describing distant and cunning America’s willingness to sacrifice  Japanese and South Korean interests in possibly opening up talks with DPRK, the author scrolls through a few scenarios for North Korea that terrify the CCP so much they need to be put in scare quotes: A North Korea that goes down an “East German-style road” or a “Myanmar-style” road.  Clearly analysis of the North Korean missile test serves as a proxy for a number of other deep problems in China’s foreign relations, but as long as it is put under an anti-Japanese umbrella and linguistically cauterized, most any idea can be broached.

3) Ding Gang, “Pyongyang launch upsets regional security framework,” Global Times, December 12. Mild disapproval, combined with excuses for Chinese inaction, mixed with concern that Japan will wake up.   

Chinese Official Statements

4) “外交部发言人就朝鲜发射“光明星3号”卫星等答问 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Answers Questions on North Korea’s Launch of the ‘Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Satellite),” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, December 12, 2012. This is MFA’s unsurprisingly bland statement they have used numerous times. This time, they probably mean it.  Again, worth comparing with a nuanced interpretation of MFA statements in English and Chinese.

One of literally hundreds of Chinese graphics on how they saw North Korea's launch happening.  There was much insight and technical expertise at work.

Figure 2. One of literally hundreds of Chinese graphics on how they saw North Korea’s launch happening. There was much insight and technical expertise at work.

Chinese News Stories

5) 鲜民众热衷追逐时尚生活 Huanqiu Shibao, December 12, 2012. An hour before DPRK launch, China’s top foreign affairs tabloid publishes headline “North Korean People Eagerly Pursuing Suitable Life,” written by Zhou Zhiran, Xinhua’s top dog in Pyongyang. The Chinese press regularly features similar articles that are rarely time-sensitive, so that they can be dribbled out at times when North Korea deserves a bit of positive reinforcement, the kind that can be turned back to domestic advantage by KCNA.  (Why else would China be publishing articles with headlines like “Pyongyang: Children Eat Five Meals a Day”?) Was this particular article, which followed the line that North Korean living standards were going up and reforms were on the way, intended as a little reward for the North Korean delay of the launch?  It went live an hour before the launch and thus stayed up for a few days on Huanqiu’s main page as a happy counterpoint to Kim Jong Un’s smoking projectile.

6) “朝鲜卫星上天四大悬疑:如何骗过韩国闪电发射  China.com.cn, December 13, 2012. (Four Questions about North Korea’s Satellite Launch: How to Trick South Korea – Launch in a Flash).  This piece includes commentary by Beijing University professor and top North Korea pragmatist, Zhu Feng.

Forget Alaska, the DPRK could hit Xinjiang: Showing Beijing and Urumuqi on a map delineating the DPRK's new reach; via Huanqiu Military

Forget Alaska, the DPRK could hit Xinjiang: Showing Beijing and Urumuqi on a map delineating the DPRK’s new reach; via Huanqiu Military

7/8) These kinds of  side-by-side English and Chinese statements are always interesting.  Xinhua caveats that they are not literal translations, and there are indeed some clear differences in tone and content.  The Chinese version is more frustrated, and provides the satellite’s inclination, perigee, apogee and orbital period.  The English version is titled DPRK says it successfully launched controversial long-range rocket while the Chinese version is titled  “综合消息:朝鲜成功发射“光明星3号” 国际社会反应强烈(Summary Information: North Korea Successfully Launches ‘Kwangmyŏngsŏng-3 Satellite, International Community Reacts Strongly),”Xinhua, December 12, 2012.

9)  综合消息:朝鲜成功发射“光明星3号” 国际社会反应强烈 is a Chinese-only article with the same title as the one appearing opposite the English-language version.  Yet the two Chinese lamguage versions themselves differ slightly in content.

10) 朝鲜发射火箭引美日韩不满 导弹能力可威慑美国 Huanqiu Shibao, December 12, 2012. (North Korea launched a rocket (thus) drawing protest from the United States, Japan and South Korea, the missile can deter the United States)  Quotes Dean Cheng at Heritage Foundation as saying China’s main interest is maintaining stability on the peninsula.

11 ) 日媒称日空自共出动9架战机应对中国飞机 Huanqiu Shibao, December 13, 2012. (Japanese media said they sent 9 aircraft against Chinese aircraft) This one was interesting because China flew over disputed islands two days after the DPRK launch. It may have been an opportunity to shift discussion away from the DPRK. That day also happened to be the anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre.  Even more interesting, China wiped out all 3,000 comments from the comments sections.

12) 朝鲜称火箭发射推迟 日媒称成功与否关系朝体制 World Huanqiu Shibao, December 11, 2012. (North Korea said the rocket launch was delayed, Japanese media said US-Japanese cooperation is institutionalized/solidified)  This one clearly got the Chinese attention as something inimical to Chinese security interests.

13) 冲突爆发:日本武力阻止朝鲜发射卫星背后隐藏什么 New Military Affairs, December 5, 2012.  (Conflict Outbreak: What’s hidden behind Japanese plan to use military force to stop North Korea from launching satellites).

Chinese readers were exposed to accurtel portrayals of other countries' reactions.  There was no censoring of positions here.

Figure 3. Chinese readers were exposed to accurate portrayals of other countries’ reactions. There was no censoring of positions here; North Korea is literally surrounded.

Chinese Blogs / BBS

14) 环球博客朝鲜火箭发射热点博文精选 (This is a list of various netizen blogs on DPRK’s post).  Netizen blogs tend toward the Chinese extremes.  Some very anti-DPRK (but not censored) and some very pro-DPRK.  Most were anti-DPRK to some degree.

Chinese Weibo

15) 盘点朝鲜过去6次火箭和弹道导弹发射 Sina Weibo, December 12, 2012. (List of last six North Korean rocket and ballistic missile launches)  That Chinese weiborati felt a need to describe North Korea’s rockets and catalog their failures, but also show their progress indicates a certain ambivalence and begrudging respect for their missile-tipped ideologue neighbors.

Chinese Videos

16) 韩媒称朝鲜近期将发射远程导弹 Yunnan TV via Huanqiu video, November 28, 2012 re-broadcast December 12, 2012. (South Korean media says North Korea will soon launch long range MISSILE) Zhang Liangui, one China’s foremost North Korea Scholars and a graduate of Kim Il-Sung University gave this interview just hours before North Korea launches.  The main questions were why, why now, what is North Korea trying to achieve and why is South Korea reacting the way it is.  Zhang gives all party-line answers.  He’s from the Central Party School, so no surprises.  This is also significant since they refer to the “satellite” as a MISSILE.  Zhang gives this interview on Yunnan TV just hours before North Korea launches.  He is no longer the avuncular consigliere of Das Boot era; instead, he’s now forceful and about to explode from his unbuttoned collar.

17) 吕超:朝鲜发射卫星虚晃一枪可谓棋胜一招  Phoenix TV, Hong Kong, December 12, 2012.(North Korea’s feint can be called a winning chess move) Lv Chao, another of China’s foremost North Korea Scholars and frequent DPRK interlocutor explains how DPRK’s deception plan was shrewd.  There must have been a State Administration for Radio, Film and Television edict sent to Hong Kong since Hong Kong broadcasters now speak at a clip usually reserved for chipmunks on caffeine.

This was one of the few gaphics to illustrate that North Korea was firing soemthing that could be a missile or a satellite.  Directly contravened Chinese standarad formulation this was a satellite test.

Figure 4. This was one of the few graphics to illustrate that North Korea was firing something that could be a missile or a satellite. It directly contravened the Chinese standard formulation this was a satellite test.

Chinese Comprehensive Coverages

18) 朝鲜发射卫星未入轨 (North Korea fails to achieve orbit)  Sina.com coverage uses DPRK verbiage released after DPRK’s failed APRIL 2012 launch.  Sina’s coverage was representative of Chinese coverage at that time for almost gloating over the failure.  Interesting graphic showing North Korean missile “jittering” or making random movements as it is coming down.  Indicates the graphic designer shared too much since no country announces their missiles shake to avoid being hit by incoming fire.  Possibly also indicates that Chinese missiles do this and he just assumed North Korean missiles do to.

19) 朝鲜成功发射第四个卫星 (North Korea successfully launches the fourth satellite)  Again an amazing array of coverage to force as much information about DPRK programs into the open.  For states so focused on secrecy, this is a form of collective national passive-aggressive behavior.  This one as do many others, brings up the subject of Korean elections.  China is neither censoring nor shying away from broaching these subjects.  What they do NOT do is go into a treatise on forms of government.  There’s a video of young broadcaster who is blue all over and has a lovely Taiwan-shaped brooch.  Intentional maybe.  Stylish, yes.  North Korea watchers get so used to the ubiquitous Kim badges, it’s nice to see a change.

20) 朝鲜发射卫星成功  (North Korea’s satellite launch successful)  This 163 net has some amazing graphics of the launch, what they thought was monitoring it and how it might get shot down.  It is also one of the few sites to graphically show how an ICBM and a satellite are basically the same.

21) 朝鲜此次发射卫星与以往有显著不同   What had them most worried in this piece was the possibility of Japan shooting the satellite. It includes a nice listing of the different rockets and technical characteristics and some great pictures of North Korea’s April 2012 Military Parade.  This site, more so than the others,  is intent on unilaterally enforcing DPRK military transparency through pictures and articles.

Additional Reading in English

1) Foster Klug And Matthew Pennington, “NKorea still years away from credible missiles,”Associated Press, December 13, 2012.

2) Nick Hansen, “Countdown to the Rocket Launch: Staging of Rocket Proceeding More Slowly than Reported; Winter Weather a New Factor?,” 38North, December 6, 2012.

3) “About Yesterday,” 38North, December 12, 2012.

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