The Ideational Balance of Power: KCNA File No. 13

By | April 01, 2012 | 2 Comments

Click here to view KNCA File No. 13 (March 4 – March 10) in its entirety.

A demonstration in Zhengzhou, China, against Japan's claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, October 2010 | Photo Courtesy of HistoryToday

Although Americans may be emphasizing values and the importance of ideational issues in an era of declining American power following two costly wars and an economic crisis, KCNA File No. 13 reminds our readers from North America and Europe that the ideational dimension in Northeast Asia matters. One general critique often made of the “Western approach” to Northeast Asia is that it downplays the significance of ideational conflict, especially the always-volatile issues of irredentism and Japan’s 20th-century history.  One need not go to a history book to get a sense of the ideational conflict that still lingers between Japan and her neighbors, although Peter Duus’s introduction to The Japanese Wartime Empire:  1931-1945 comes to mind as a solid primer.  The raising of a “comfort woman” statue late last year in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul that sparked controversy and a diplomatic dispute or, more recently, the suggestion by Takashi Kawamura, the mayor of Nagoya, Japan, that the massacre of Nanjing during World War II never occurred, provide plenty such fuel in the present day.

Is it Senkaku or Diaoyu?  Takeshima or Dokdo?  Is it the East Sea or the Sea of Japan?  Evan Koepfler’s latest KCNA file shows that the DPRK is throwing its support behind the PRC in its dispute with the Japanese naming of Diaoyu/Takeshima, which, according to PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesmen Hong Lei, is “illegal.”  Are KCNA staff writers in Pyonyang attempting to use the power of words to affect the ideational balance of power in the region?  Read and find out.  – S.C. Denney, Assistant Editor

Ideational Issues Matter:  Analysis of KCNA File No. 13, March 4 – March 10, 2012

by Evan Koepfler, Pacific Lutheran University

This week, KCNA exploded with coverage of the growing tensions between North and South Korea, leaving little room for coverage of anything else—China included. However, KCNA did continue to cover such threads as the growing conflict between China and Japan, and China’s continued process of forging global relationships.

As statements of support from Chinese leaders and newspapers dwindle, KCNA seems to be leaning even harder than usual on amorphous groups of Koreans in China. Two such stories slammed Lee Myung Bak this week for his negative remarks about North Korean leadership, stating:  “now is the time for the members of the Korean nation who are concerned about the destiny of the country and nation to turn out in the nationwide sacred war irrespective of affiliation, religious belief and political view to eliminate the Lee group at an early date.” If even the overseas Koreans are uniting behind the Kim family leadership, the logic goes, all the stronger should be support for the regime within the DPRK.

If direct statements of support have not been forthcoming from Beijing, Pyongyang has still shown support for the PRC in its own press by covering the increasingly troubled relationship between China and Japan. This time, the issue at stake revolved around the Japanese naming of Diaoyu/Takeshima, and its surrounding islets, which Hong Lei, spokesman for the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressed was illegal. KCNA has been quite consistent in detailing the quarrels between China and Japan.

On the flipside, China continues to create and strengthen relationships with other countries in the region. In a larger story detailing instances of cooperation between countries worldwide, KCNA mentioned briefly a meeting between China and Cambodia which resulted in agreements to increase bilateral communication between the two nations, a marked contrast in the Manichean world of KCNA to “aggressive” Japan.

Finally, KCNA published a story detailing the meeting of the 5th session of the 11th National People’s Congress of China. For a meeting of the people’s congress, much of the story was dominated by information concerning government officials’ speeches. In fact, the speech that Premier Wen Jiabao gave dominated the dispatch. In his speech, Wen outlined the successes that China enjoyed in 2011, as well as outlined plans for the future, which included: social harmony and stability, relatively rapid economic development, the modernization of the military, development of talent in science and an overall advancement of education, and finally the continued development of relationships with developing countries. While any summary of Wen’s speech would almost have to mention the CCP leader’s attention to “people’s livelihood [民生], KCNA’s repetition of Chinese Communist Party promises and achievements in the economic field is way both of conveying to the DPRK population that North Korea’s top backer remains in a strong position to dispense copious aid, while at the same time lending a shred of hope to Chinese analysts that the watchwords of economic reform are getting a hearing among Pyongyang and North Korea’s readers.

Click here to view KNCA File No. 13 (March 4 – March 10) in its entirety.


  1. Thanks for that pdf file, it is a godsent, really eye-opening!

  2. Glad you are finding these useful, Juche! It’s not always a foregone conclusion that North Korea is “trying to send a message” through each and every item (like any bureaucracy, surely a great deal of this stuff is generated virtually automatically), but in a system with such “regularity” sometimes it does help to be able to point out the possible meaning of fluctuations or disappearances of various themes. The STALIN research tool shows for instance that KCNA items with the word “China” in them simply spiked in 2010, which is fairly interesting indeed.

    There was a great book of media analysis about a decade ago about PRC media in the early 1950s called “Words Kill” which did content analysis of Renmin Ribao/People’s Daily which provides another excellent model for how to look at state-driven media.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.