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China Argues Over Which Country is Behind Kim Jong-nam Assassination

Screen capture from NTD TV news.

In Western and South Korean media coverage the February 12 murder at Kuala Lumpur airport of Kim Jong-nam, half brother of North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-un, was immediately interpreted as an indicator of serious and growing tensions between China and estranged ally North Korea.

The broad, if unverifiable assumption at present is that Pyongyang ordered the hit on on the regime sibling, who lived with his two families in Beijing and Macau under China’s protection, in order to eliminate a potential pretender to the throne. If this version is true, it would be a major embarrassment for Beijing, whose relations with its communist neighbour are souring by the day.

Thus far, most Chinese state-affiliated media outlets have withheld from commentary on the news, reflecting, perhaps, a certain paralysis in China over how to react to the shock development. Certainly, after China's criticisms of North Korean nuclear policy, the two countries are no longer “close like lips and teeth”, as Modern China's founder Mao Tse-Tung once said.

Nevertheless, Chinese nationalist commentators who tend to see U.S hegemony as a major source of threat to the country — and North Korea as a traditional ally — filled the void of silence with speculation that pointed a finger at South Korea instead.

They accuse Seoul of carrying out the assassination in order to gain public support for deploying the controversial Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defence system that the United States supports, and which has ratcheted up tensions with the north.

Few users of the Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo seemed to buy that theory, however.

The nationalist-leaning Global Times first quoted the online conspiracy theory in its news report dated February 17:

网上有阴谋论大胆推测,韩国保守派人士可能涉事,因为他们一向都对朝鲜持有强烈敌意,暗杀金正男后再将责任嫁祸于朝鲜,可令平壤政府受到国际谴责

There is an online conspiracy that the [government] in South Korea may have been involved in the incident as they are hostile towards North Korea. They may have killed Kim Jong-nam and blamed North Korea for the act, so that international society would condemn Pyongyang.

The paper then quoted Lu Chao, a researcher at the Liaoning social science academy to provide backing for the conspiracy theory:

韩国政界和媒体对金正男之死炒得不亦乐乎,各媒体不断“爆料”,这对他们来说好像兴奋剂一样。韩国似乎把这条消息当成抹黑、颠覆朝鲜的一个“重磅炸弹”,从这一角度来看,已经超出了新闻的范围,有很大的政治目的性。

South Korean politicians and media are overjoyed with the news about Kim Jong-nam’s death. These media outlets keep publishing “breaking news” [on the topic]. The effect of the incident is like LSD. South Korea sees the news as a “powerful bomb” to defame and subvert North Korea. From this point of view, it is no longer a piece of news but part of a political plot.

Seemingly, commentators such as Lu Chao view the  THAAD system as a greater threat to Chinese national security than North Korea's nuclear tests, despite increasing evidence that China has as much reason to fear Kim Jong-un's unpredictable regime as other countries in the region.

On Twitter, prominent Chinese journalist Gao Yu condemned those still backing North Korea:

The assassination of Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia is a terrorist incident. But I just heard two scholars talking to VOA who argued that the incident would not affect North Korea’s relationship with China because the fact Kim Jong-un remains in power creates difficulties for U.S President Trump. Such cold-blooded scholars are terrifying. Their view tells the whole world who is supporting Kim Jong-un, the maniac who killed his uncle and his brother.

On the Weibo comment thread under a China Central Television news report on the topic, most commenters stated their belief that North Korea was the most likely culprit in the assassination.

地球人都知道,这是三胖子在向中国示威而已。三胖子发射导弹,原以为会获得中国支持(因为这几年都是毛左路线),想不到这次不同,毛左开始失去控制权,中国严厉指责朝鲜,并通知要断绝对朝支持(包括禁止进口朝鲜煤),双方立即谈崩。三胖子担心中国扶持喜欢改革的正男上台。。果断出手杀了正男,。

The whole world know that the incident is a protest against China by Fatty the Third (Kim Jong-un). The fatty launched missiles and expected Chinese backing for his actions […] But this time, China condemned North Korea and claimed that it would stop giving support to North Korea (and banned North Korea coal import). Relations broke down. Fatty was worried that China would support the reformist Jong-nam to take over the leadership… and Jong-nam was killed.

蠢货才会相信朝鲜是中国的小弟,事实上中国是朝鲜大后方。中国对朝鲜内外政治毫无影响力,却不得不提供各种资源输血

Only the stupid ones believe that North Korea is China’s little brother […] China cannot exercise any political influence over North Korea, but it has to offer supplies to the country.

预感,中国要协助北朝鲜统一南北朝鲜了。萨德,是中国协助的理由。。。。。威胁到了,中国的安全。。这步棋下的很波折啊。只有,南北朝鲜统一了,中国的东北边防和东部海防环境才会安稳,前提是,中国协助统一。。如果是美国协助统一,就是另一回事了。

My gut feeling is that China will help the reunification of North and South Korea. As to THAAD being a threat to Chinese national security… that is very far fetched. Only when the two are reunified will northeastern China and [the region] know peace. But China has to help out… if the U.S takes the lead in reunification, it might be another story.

Unlike certain nationalist armchair pundits, meanwhile, residents of the northeastern region of China fear North Korea far more than they fear THAAD and South Korea:

不想说啥,我只知道三胖搞核武,我们这里都地震好几次了,去年最厉害的一次,上课的孩子们都跑到操场疏散,最后校长紧急决定放假。呵呵。替他叫好的,想想大东北的安危再说话。别忘了你是中国人。

I don’t want to say too much. All I know is that because of Kim Jong-un’s nuclear tests, we have experienced a few earthquakes here. The most serious earthquake happened last year, when kids in school had to run to the sports fields and the school headmaster decided to cancel the school day because of security concerns. Those who cheer for [Kim Jong-un], please think about the safety in Northeastern China. And don’t forget you are Chinese.

4 comments

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  • Stuart M.

    The wheels of the fake news mills never stop! Obviously “Fatty” killed his brother. He has killed many of his relatives and loyal toadies. South Korea is of course gleeful over this poke in China’s eye. South Korea has suffered like no other country from N. Korean terrorist attacks. Civilian airliners were bombed out of the sky, S. Korean diplomats were murdered in broad daylight in Bangkok, a S. Korean naval vessel was blown out of he water by a N. Korean torpedo, a S. Korean town on a small island was shelled by N. Korean artillery, N. Korea has exploded nuclear devices and shot off ballistic missiles and all we ever heard from China was “We call for restraint.” China has been N. Korea’s principal source of EVERYTHING for decades now. It has facilitated N. Korean bad behavior and now the dog has bitten the hand that feeds it. When will China wake up? The stationing of THAAD is a direct result of China’s support for the Kim regime.

    • rwscid

      Truth is never obvious.

  • […] This article originally appeared on Global Voices. […]

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