After Kim-Putin Summit in Pyongyang, Censors Erase Chinese Public’s Unease

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, where the two signed a “friendship treaty” and pledged military assistance in the event that either nation is attacked. The Chinese state’s reaction to the trip has been muted. The Stimson Center’s Yun Sun called it “so reserved that it borders on aloof.” A number of analyses of China’s official reaction speculate that the new Kim-Putin coziness is a “new headache” for China that might leave it “holding the bag” for North Korean “adventurism.” Others, like Victor Cha of the Washington think tank CSIS, propose that Beijing’s silence is explained by indecision: “[Y]ou’re just incapable of making a decision because you just don’t know how to evaluate the situation.” 

The Chinese internet has been far less quiescent. A number of essays posted in the days leading up to the summit and after its conclusion have cast a harsh light on the enduring fractures in the China-Russia-North Korea relationship. Despite close, albeit flexible official ties and the close personal friendship between Xi Jinping and Putin (they have celebrated birthdays together), there is a great deal of anger at Russia and North Korea on the Chinese internet. 

On WeChat, one essayist compared the Putin-Kim alliance to the doomed alliance of two characters from the Jin Yong novel “Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils.” Titled “The ‘Until-the-Bitter-End Gang’ Are a Modern-Day Murong Fu and Duan Yanqing,” the essay held that the alliance is a sign of desperation and destined to fail. The essay was censored soon after publication. CDT has translated some relevant excerpts: 

It would be wrong to say they are clutching at straws because they can satisfy each other’s mutual needs. Even so, the pairing resembles the lame leading the blind—it’s better than nothing.

The alliance of the two hasn’t ushered in power, but rather unambiguously demonstrates their desperation.

When Duan Yanqing and Murong Fu formed their alliance, they each harbored ulterior motives, but were convinced it was a good idea to join forces to carry out their ambitious plans. But by that point, the 48th chapter of “Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils” was drawing to a close, Murong Fu would soon lose his sanity, and Duan Yanqing would soon abandon his quest and become a recluse.

In truth, Duan Yanqing was the one in the more advantageous position. He could conserve his stores of grain and weaponry, awaiting the right time.

He could also simply choose not adhere to the treaty. [Chinese]

Other Chinese reactions to the meeting touched on similar themes of unease. One essayist wrote that the instability created by the meeting will serve to “safeguard Kim Jong Un’s regime. For countries of the North Korea model, there is nothing worse than being forgotten and overlooked on the international stage.” The author, Ni Ren, concluded the essay on a somber note: “Humanity is sliding towards an uneasy future.” Other Chinese essayists drew similar conclusions. One wrote: “I believe that Putin’s surprise trip to North Korea has severely damaged China’s security and is inconsistent with China’s official position on the issue of the Korean Peninsula.” 

A tool developed by Citizen Lab to track search censorship across Chinese platforms found evidence that  news of the meeting might be partially embargoed. (The tool doesn’t distinguish between newly-added terms and long-established taboos.) Censored phrases included: “political power + North Korea,” “assassinate + Kim Jong,” and “each harbored ulterior motives + new Axis.” 

Online Chinese anger towards Russia and North Korea predates the summit, as does the censorship of it. Chinese revanchism is a major driver of that anger. Just before the Putin-Xi meeting in Beijing in May, the far-right Russian political philosopher Aleksandr Dugin launched accounts on a number of Chinese social media platforms. He was given a frosty welcome, with a number of Chinese netizens attacking him for once suggesting that Russia partition China, thus making him a “foreign hostile force.” Some went further, calling Dugin’s daughter a “legendary Moscow bombshell,” a crude reference to her assassination by car bomb at the hands of Ukrainian operatives just outside the Russian capital. Other Chinese netizens suggested that Russia “return Sakhalin and Vladivostok” to secure Chinese friendship. 

In China, Vladivostok is still called “Haishenwai,” the city’s name under the Qing Dynasty before its annexation by the Russian Empire in the mid-19th century. Just before the Kim-Putin summit, the head of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee’s International Department, a powerful Party body, went to Vladivostok for a forum on resisting neo-colonialism. Chinese censors took down a WeChat essay lambasting the trip as a farce hosted by a “colonial invader”

Speaking of which: Haishenwai is an extremely appropriate place to hold a forum on anti-colonialism, as the city itself is a product of Tsarist Imperial Russia’s colonialism. We can use history as a mirror to warn the world that no nation should again walk the old terrible path of colonialism.

The only hitch is, the country holding the forum is the original colonial invader, Russia, and the country attending as a supporter is China, which suffered under colonial invasion and was forced to cede the city.

[…] The forum’s theme is “jointly resisting neocolonialism.”

I’m truly very, very confused.

Here’s a constructive suggestion:

Knowledge of history is very important. I hope our leaders might learn a little something about it. [Chinese]


Subscribe to CDT


Browsers Unbounded by Lantern

Now, you can combat internet censorship in a new way: by toggling the switch below while browsing China Digital Times, you can provide a secure "bridge" for people who want to freely access information. This open-source project is powered by Lantern, know more about this project.

Google Ads 1

Giving Assistant

Google Ads 2

Anti-censorship Tools

Life Without Walls

Click on the image to download Firefly for circumvention

Open popup

Welcome back!

CDT is a non-profit media site, and we need your support. Your contribution will help us provide more translations, breaking news, and other content you love.