CDT previously reported on the recent “Directive From the Ministry of Truth” that sent out instructions to Chinese journalists to stop reporting on the personal lives of North Korean leaders, with a particular emphasis on Kim Jong-un’s facelift. Rumors of Kim Jong-un’s facelift were originally reported on Shenzhen Satellite TV. Mark Fisher says North Korea has chastised China by publicly rebuking the rumor, from The Washington Post:
Rather, it’s surprising to see state media even acknowledging the coverage of the rumor, and thus implicitly the rumor itself. Perhaps most significant of all is North Korea’s decision to chastise Chinese media. Beijing isn’t just North Korea’s most important ally, its policies – watering down U.N, sanctions, limiting the flow of North Korean defectors, providing investment and hard currency – are crucial for the regime’s survival. You would think that North Korea’s propagandists would be extremely careful to avoid even the slightest sliver of daylight between the two countries.
Still, even if this incident is over, it might not be the last time that Chinese media and social media, where the rumor circulated long before appearing on Shenzhen TV, upsets North Korea. The recent scandal over censors restricting Southern Weekend, long relatively free for a Chinese paper, exposed the degree to which the Chinese increasingly consume and even expect news media that serves them. Social media’s reach and raucous freedom are expanding as well, all of which threatens to bring Chinese attitudes toward North Korea closer to the surface.
North Korea is still seen as an ally by many people in China, where students learn in school about the “Help Korea, Oppose America” war, Beijing-based journalist Helen Gao wrote in The Atlantic last year. But there is also a growing sense that Pyongyang’s backward policies are an embarrassment to and burden on China, according to Gao. Those sentiments, as well as the usual interest in juicy rumors about plastic surgery and the sort, could drive more Chinese public interest in stories like this one. And that could translate into Chinese media interest, or at least public pressure for it.
This all comes at a time when Beijing had been struggling a bit to keep Pyongyang close. In a post at Johns Hopkins’s Korea-focused blog 38 North, analyst Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt argues that the relationship is souring a bit. “Kim Jong Un is determined to set a course for greater political independence from Beijing,” she writes. “This has left China in a state that one insider has referred to as ‘desperate’ over its rocky relations with the country since Kim Jong Un came to power.” She says she’s found no evidence that Beijing is anything less than fully committed to its policy of maintaining regional stability and a reliably pro-Beijing regime in North Korea.
North Korea has responded by calling the rumors “sordid” and “hackwork” published by “rubbish media.” According to NKNews.Org, the rumor had circulated for months in South Korea, but it was not until the Shenzhen TV report that North Korea responded to the rumors:
What was particularly noteworthy was that the Chinese censors had specifically ordered their media to censor their country’s own state media report from Xinhua in a bid to prevent Chinese citizens from reading their own governments official propaganda, which had in this case been written for consumption by a foreign audience.
Regarding the report on Kim Jong Un’s plastic surgery, apparently Pyongyang communicated their grievances to Beijing and China’s ruling party instructed the official party media organ, Xinhua, to debunk the stories. As such, this Tuesday Xinhua issued a report that cited two of its correspondents in Pyongyang who denied the plastic surgery rumors.
The rumours of Kim Jong Un having a face lift have been fed by Pyongyang’s propaganda apparatus for months who have carefully crafted a meticulous written and pictorial narrative trying to evoke similarities between Kim Jong Un and his grandfather, including through his dress, haircut, gestures and public appearances.
Following the new censorship directive, Xinhua said that “there have been no news reports in North Korea about Kim Jong Un’s plastic surgery” and that there was “nothing suspicious” about Kim resembling his grandfather since they carry the same genes. While Kim tries to dress, walk and smile like his grandfather, together this just aims to give the impression that he “holds the people dear,” Xinhua reported.
This incident comes amid tensions between Beijing and Pyongyang due to North Korea’s satellite launch. China has called on the UN Security Council for prudence on North Korea, but tensions continue to mount as the UNSC, including China, passed a resolution calling for tightened sanctions against North Korea with a unanimous vote. The New York Times reports:
Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, has ordered his top military and party officials to take “substantial and high-profile important state measures” to retaliate against American-led United Nations sanctions on the country, the North’s official media reported Sunday.
“At the consultative meeting, Kim Jong-un expressed the firm resolution to take substantial and high-profile important state measures in view of the prevailing situation,” said the North’s Korean Central News Agency, or K.C.N.A. “He advanced specific tasks to the officials concerned.”
The K.C.N.A. dispatch, which was distributed on Sunday, was dated Saturday, indicating that the meeting in Pyongyang, the capital, took place then. That was the same day on which the North’s main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, said that the United Nations Security Council’s resolution last Tuesday calling for tightening sanctions against the North left it with “no other option” but a nuclear test.
The resolution was adopted unanimously — with the support of the North’s traditional protector, China — as punishment for its Dec. 12 rocket launching. The Security Council determined that the launching was a cover for testing intercontinental ballistic missile technology and a violation of its earlier resolutions banning North Korea from conducting such tests.
Read more about the Directives From the Ministry of Truth, via CDT.