By Lu Fan
Chinese media think that U.S. and South Korean media are inaccurately framing relations between China and North Korea as China acting as big brother to the North. This inaccurate framing results in an expectation that China will take an important role in controlling North Korea’s nuclear program. It’s called “China’s responsibility theory.”
The basis for reasons for the theory is:
- Korea even pledged allegiance to some feudal dynasties in China in history
- In 1950s, China sent troops to the Korean peninsula to support Pyongyang against the United States Army.
- China remains North Korea’s biggest trading partner. According to Observatory of Economic Complexity, 85 percent of North Korea’s imported commodities come from China.
However, this is not what Chinese government or its official media think. A commentary in Global Times on Sept. 7, a newspaper launched and published by People’s Daily, the official newspaper of Chinese Communist Party, said the influence China has on North Korea has been mistakenly exaggerated, and that playing a leading role in the Korean Peninsula issues is beyond China’s capability.
“North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapon is the result of the abnormal politics of the whole Northeastern Asian. North Korea itself and the U.S. are responsible for this result. Some Chinese overestimate the power of China…” However, a reader commented below the article: “Since China has chosen to let North Korea be independent on how to develop, then China has to accept the consequence of doing so.”
Another commentary in this newspaper published in July said “the U.S. and South Korea always try to frame the complicated situation based on their own logic, ” so “China’s responsibility theory” prevails. The commentary also called for official guidance on public opinions to eliminate “China’s responsibility theory” as Chinese government usually guide and shape public opinion by publishing information and reporting on official media.
A program called Chinese Perspective (Shendu Guoji) of CCTV, the state-run TV station in China, also made a similar point in March when South Korea and the U.S. were conducting joint military exercises. The program blamed the U.S. for forcing North Korea to withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and later prepare for war. The editor of the program said, “The more pressure the U.S. puts on North Korea, the more North Korea develops nuclear weapons. The Korean nuclear crisis has entered a vicious cycle,” and cited Hua Chunying, the spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “The cause and crux of the North Korean nuclear issue lies not with China, but with America. The nature of the North Korean nuclear issue is a North Korea/U.S. conflict… and the one who caused the problem should solve it.”
The editor of Chinese Perspective also says the current situation is a result of “extreme mutual distrust between the U.S. and North Korea.” The initiative to solve the problems is in the hand of the U.S., according to Teng Jianqun, director of the Institute of U.S. Studies at the China Institute of International Studies. According to Teng, the U.S. wouldn’t sign the peace treaty because “it would not have the excuse to cause chaos, stir up trouble and create tensions” on the Korean peninsula.
There were a few dissents to this consensus view. Qiu Zhenhai, an analyst of Hong Kong Phoenix TV Station, said on Sept. 7 that the U.S. and China need to take responsibility for solving the nuclear issue as they are the two largest economic powers in the world.
To respond to North Korea’s possessing and launching nuclear weapons, South Korea deployed its Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system. China has opposed deployment of Thadd in South Korea from the very beginning, saying it threatened the safety of China and Chinese people. China News Live, a program of Hong Kong Phoenix TV Station, reported that China regards North Korea developing nuclear weapons as extreme, but the deployment of Thaad is as extreme as North Korea because it threatens the peace of Korean Peninsula. Yang Xiyu, a member of China Institute of International Studies, said in an interview in China New Live that Thaad gives North Korea an excuse to launch missiles, which is a security threat to China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. as well as the Sino-U.S. cooperation on North Korea nuclear issue.
A commentary of Global Times in August refers the action of South Korea deploying Thaad as reckless and stupid because Thaad isn’t going to solve nuclear problem. It also says that Western countries always bear moral arrogance towards non-Western world, which needs to be restrained because the situation is not as simple as only NK did something wrong.
Social media in—entertainment, fear and censorship
Before North Korea’s missile launch Sept. 3, Chinese social media users considered Kim Jung-un’s missile launch a threat only in words. Many social media users had joked that such news about Trump and Kim fighting in words should be moved to entertainment section.
However, things changed Sept. 3. At first, most mainstream media reported that an earthquake happened in North Korea. About nine hours later, CCTV published on Weibo, a Twitter-like social networking site in China, that North Koreans were conducting nuclear missile test according to Chinese government’s preliminary judgment.
According to the BBC, the popular social networking site Weibo and mobile APP Wechat (Chinese version of WhatsApp) were highly censored after the launch. Weibo users still cannot see any results if searching for the word “hydrogen bomb” on Weibo until this GJR newsletter is posted. Instead, they see a notice of “according to relative law, regulation and policy, the search results of ‘’ are not shown.”
But Weibo users still find a way to express their feelings. One of the users “Yaoguangxiao_wayne” posted on Sept. 5: “As a Chinese, one of the surviving skills is to sort out the truth from various life-concerning but paradox information from authoritative sources. Since the day before yesterday (Sept 3), (the official media) have been deleting posts and announce that the test has no influence on China while publishing such information via the Weather Bureau…” The information this user refers to is that Chinese Weather Bureau announced they had started an emergency security alert and warned of a burst of nuclear environment pollution, suggesting an emergency plan for members of the public to protect themselves.
Chinese Weather Bureau announced on Sept. 10 they had withdrawn such an alert after they had tested the air and found nothing dangerous. However, many users left comments below this post that they do not believe the Weather Bureau’s claim that there was nothing dangerous.