Chinese political cartoonist Badiucao’s latest work, “Dictators Are Dictators’ Own Nightmares,” perhaps best captures public sentiment in China on North Korea’s recent aggressive military moves.
The cartoon shows a white-gloved Kim Jong-un slapping his adversary, US President Donald Trump, and his ally, Chinese President Xi Jinping, in exactly the same manner — one that would probably be embarrassing for a leader who tries to project an image of strength.
It was published after Pyongyang fired a missile on August 28 that flew over Japan’s Hokkaido island and landed in the sea after travelling for 1,700 miles – a distance that can reach major cities in northern and eastern China, including Beijing and Shanghai. Then a week later conducted a nuclear test and claimed that it was an advanced hydrogen bomb designed for long-range missiles.
The nuclear blast yield of the latest hydrogen bomb test, according to Norwegian Seismic Array’s estimation, is up to 120 kilotons, which is the strongest of North Korea's six nuclear tests and more powerful than the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan's Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US during World War II.
Pyongyang's actions followed a series of chest-thumping statements from Trump, and happened at a time when Xi was in the international spotlight hosting the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Xiamen, a port city in southeastern China.
Diplomatic analysts have theorized that the timing of the tests were meant to cause “maximum embarrassment” for Xi as a means to put pressure on him, in the hopes that he influences the US towards opening up meaningful negotiations with Kim Jong-un.
The matter certainly seems to have touched a nerve in China. Beijing’s official response was brief and moderate, and authorities began to censor key terms such as “hydrogen bomb” on Chinese social media.
But netizens are still finding ways to cynically comment on China's response and debate about what North Korea's actions mean for their own country.
On September 3, Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the Global Times urged people to stay calm in their editorial, arguing that China should stand firm on the possible radiation from North Korea's tests polluting northeast China, but implying that China should recognize North Korea as a defacto nuclear power:
North Korea’s latest round of nuclear tests and missile launches indicated that Pyongyang won't accept neither hard-handed nor soft-handed negotiations. It is determined to equip the country with mid-range to far-range nuclear missile power and won't submit to any pressure from outside. The whole situation is in a deadlock.
China needs to be cool in this highly complicated situation. Decisions should be based on national interest — reducing the risk to Chinese society.
The security of northeast China is most important. We need to tell Pyongyang that its nuclear tests cannot pollute the Dongbei region. The strategic and environmental security is the baseline for Beijing’s restraint.
Readers responded critically:
All we have to do is condemn [Pyongyang].
Let it be. Let’s continue our China dream.
看完了 这文章重点就是 不能被拖下水 不能冲锋陷阵 前提是东北安全 但是问题来了 你咋保证东北安全……
The main point of the editorial is: don’t be dragged into troubled water, don’t fight. The premise is Dongbei’s security, but if there is no way to ensure Dongbei’s security when the problem of [radiation] arises.
Many discussions about the hydrogen bomb test happened underneath a post from the China Meteorological Administration on the popular social media platform Weibo that urged radiation monitoring stations in northeast China, also known as Dongbei, to keep a close eye on radiation levels.
The post, published on September 4, did not mention anything about North Korea nor the hydrogen bomb test. Netizens did the same, discussing the crisis without mentioning any keyword to avoid censorship:
In a critical historical moment, everyone thinks it is just an ordinary day.
The government says it is okay, let’s continue our dance, come on, get up!
The most effective way to clean nuclear pollution is to block information, arrest people and organize people to watch [the patriotic movie] Wolf Warriors.
I don’t understand why people are making such cynical remarks. This is the sixth nuclear test, and the latest one happened 48 hours ago. But the news hadn’t addressed people’s concern. The comments saying that what happened in northeast China has nothing to do with them [aren't accurate]. Perhaps you are not in Dongbei, or you’ve never been to Dongbei and never eaten Dongbei’s cuisine. But if Dongbei is polluted, China will be too, as the rice that feeds 1.4 billion people will not be edible.
The world is getting better, but not as good as imagined. The world is getting worse, but far worse than imagined.
No information or notice in Shandong [province, across the Yellow Sea from North Korea] telling people what they should be aware of. If my friend did not climb over the [Great Fire]wall and tell me the news, I would have no idea of the severity of the situation. What is the government doing? Why is it burying its head in the sand?
This alert is useless. Exactly what is the level of radiation? Has it reached a dangerous level? Radiation even at a low level can be harmful to the human body. Maintaining [social] stability is more important than human life?