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Repeats Story Initially Transmitted at 04:06 GMT Sep 5/00:06 EST Sep 5
BEIJING (MNI) - In China, where the ruling Communist Party heavily controls
both the media and cyberspace, there is never a clear boundary between public
opinion and propaganda.
But it is clear that Chinese public opinion is increasingly unhappy with
the behavior of the North Korean regime.
Following the sixth nuclear test by North Korea on Sunday, citizens in the
country's northeast, which lies as close as 10 miles from the Punggye-ri Nuclear
Test Site, were rightly shaken and upset by the 6.3-magnitude earthquake and
potential radiation from the massive explosion.
The test was the biggest by North Korea to date, producing a force of more
than 100 kilotons, according to researchers at the University of Science and
Technology of China. That is five times bigger than the 21 kilotons of "yield"
from the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 during World War II. Yet the immediate
response from the Chinese government and media was muted. Only Xinhua News
Agency carried a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemning the
test, which was reprinted by other media.
"People were shaken and scared, some buildings even collapsed," according
to a resident of Yanbian, an autonomous prefecture in northeastern China that
borders North Korea. "Our land is destroyed like that; what kind of interest
motivates the government to sacrifice the lives of so many people in the
northeast and tolerate another country repeatedly conducting nuclear tests on
your border?!" said a user of Weibo, China's Twitter-like social media platform.
Chinese government authorities are currently assessing the impact from the
nuclear explosion, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang told
reporters on Monday at a regular briefing. The site lies next to Changbai
Mountain, a dormant volcano that last erupted during the Qing Dynasty. There has
been speculation that repeated earthquakes there could have a dire impact.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection invoked a "second-degree emergency
response" and has provided regular updates on the latest probes of pollutant
levels. China Central Television would only say that monitors located in
provinces around North Korea are "operating normally." Test results from several
collection sites didn't show radioactive material, the environmental ministry
The Chinese government appeared relatively sanguine about the Pyongyang
regime's latest provocation in spite of its statement of outrage. That suggests
the government hasn't decided on a real course of action beyond deferring to the
United Nations Security Council and lodging a "formal representation" to the
North Korean embassy in Beijing.
That did little to placate domestic critics, even though their channels of
expression are limited. "You won't even summon the DPRK ambassador?!" one Weibo
On WeChat, China's most popular mobile chat application, an article
circulated after the test speculated that the detonated device may have used
plutonium, a far "dirtier" material than the hydrogen claimed by North Korea.
That could render China's northeast region "lifeless" if radiation were to leak,
the article said. The article has since been deleted from WeChat, although it is
still searchable on the internet.
While the Chinese government wrung its hands over the continued defiance of
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the public clearly wants to see more than
verbal condemnation by officials. Many blamed the escalating danger next door to
the government's years of tacitly condoning North Korean behavior, especially
that of Kim, whom netizens deride as "Kim the Third Fatso."
"Under the strong condemnation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a new
strong Northeast Asian nation emerged," a commentator wrote sarcastically in
reaction to one report by a government mouthpiece.
The nuclear test could also generate Chinese public sympathy for South
Korea, with many social media users commenting that more installations of the
U.S. THAAD anti-missile defense system in South Korea would be justified, in
contrast to the Chinese government's strong opposition to its deployment. That
could weaken the government's case for boycotting South Korean businesses in
"THAAD is installed hundreds of kilometers from us, while the nuclear test
site is right at our border; which one is the real menace here?" one Weibo user
There are signs that even official views are divided. On Monday, the
English-language edition of the Global Times, a normally nationalistic tabloid
paper owned by the People's Daily, attempted to downplay the incident in an
editorial and suggested that China should only respond with more sanctions if
evidence suggests its territories are contaminated. It should not cut off North
Korea's lifeline -- oil -- because that would pit China against the regime, it
That view was not universally accepted even within the establishment. On
Tuesday, the Chinese version of the same newspaper published an opinion piece,
authored by Shan Renping, which split from the previous day's editorial. Shan
sharply criticized the camp in China that "stretched to downplay" the incident
and painted the actions of North Korea as not an affront to China, even though
the test was conducted on the day when President Xi Jinping was to step into the
international spotlight by hosting leaders of the BRICS nations.
"We at the Global Times urge China to strictly carry out sanctions decided
by the U.N. Security Council," which may include stopping oil shipments if
necessary, Shan wrote. That North Korea's tests haven't been found to have
contaminated China's soil doesn't mean they will always be safe, Shan warned.
Preventing North Korea from conducting new tests is a "sacred duty" and a basic
national security measure, Shan said.
Perhaps a wry comment by a Weibo user on Shan's article best captures the
twisted condition the Chinese government finds itself in: "No one else is trying
to downplay the risks from North Korea possessing nuclear weapons; it's your own
editor-in-chief, my dear."