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David Wertime

Chinese Netizens Hoot at North Korea's Failure to Launch

What a way to spend 450 million dollars. The regime of North Korea’s new (and likely insecure) young leader, Kim Jong-Un, will almost certainly scramble to save face after inviting international reporters to a botched April 12 launch of the Kwangmyongsong No. 3 missile. The intended demonstration of the North’s might and Kim III’s competence ultimately fizzled into the Yellow Sea while the world watched. This “failure,” as Chinese media are straightforwardly calling it, was noticed, and quickly derided, in the Middle Kingdom.

Chinese netizens on Weibo, China’s Twitter, have recently made something of a habit of mocking North Korea. In March, one netizen opened a Weibo account purporting to be the official mouthpiece of the Kim dynasty. The account was treated as a rhetorical punching bag for weeks until authorities unceremoniously shut it down.

Now, it’s Kim Jong-Un himself (or as many Chinese netizens say, “the fat Kim”) who is providing fodder for ridicule. Searches for “North Korean Missile Fails” ranked #1 yesterday on Baidu, China’s top search engine. The relish with which most, but not all, Chinese netizens jumped on the news is further evidence that many Chinese view the North Korean regime as evil, or at least hilariously inept.  

Jong Tae-Se crying at the World Cup

Even mainstream media got into the act of putting North Korea in its place. On Weibo, the tabloid Southern Metropolis Daily published news of the failure, then added, “The North Korean masses expressed astonishment at the missile launch to reporters, even asking the [foreign] reporters whether the launch had been successful.” Beneath this news, the paper ran a photograph of  North Korean soccer player Jong Tae-Se weeping at the 2010 World Cup.

Netizens responding to this post took the hint: North Korea was fair game, again. @shop34174902 simply wrote, “Premature ejaculation?” @精美图文范儿 laughed, “The people charged with protecting this secret did a great job.” [NB: In fact, for once North Korea did not try to keep these results secret, at least not for long.] @Xp_Is_Back__ added, “How awkward, how awkward.” 

But netizen comments also evinced a serious dislike for the regime, and their criticisms did not greatly differ from what one might hear in the U.S. Many wondered aloud what fate awaited the experts and engineers behind the unsuccessful project, with @XandYandZ asking whether they would be sent to the mines or killed. @李文祥-kiven bemoaned the waste of money, writing, “The government has lost its people’s trust. Even if the launch was successful, what’s the use? Would it raise the North Korean people up?”

Some tried to push a more positive storyline, but netizens were decidedly unimpressed. Hu Xijin (@胡锡进), editor of the pro-Party Global Times, tweeted: 

“The U.S. and South Korea say the North Korean missile launch failed. North Korea’s [agricultural] technology…isn’t sufficient to care for its own citizens, [so] it’s already not bad that they were able to launch the missile without it exploding on the platform.” {{Chinese}} [[Chinese]] 美韩称朝鲜发射卫星失败。朝鲜的种粮技术和生产化肥技术尚不足养活本国人民,运载火箭能飞起来,没在发射台上爆炸,已经很不错了。当年中国一穷二白把两弹一星搞上去了,纯属万幸。正确方法还是先把化肥和地模技术搞好,火箭就会连带着越飞越高。当然,美韩别总吓唬朝鲜,逼着它“先军”。朝鲜挺难的。[[Chinese]] (He then reminded readers that a once-poor China also launched missiles, which succeeded by “pure luck.”)

Commenters responded by calling Mr. Hu’s post “immature” and poorly reasoned. @小皮1964 suggested that Hu go help North Korea and not come back. @坏球日报1 pointed out that as North Korea’s neighbor, China should feel threatened as well: “I don’t know how nervous the air defense networks near Beijing were [yesterday].” 

Hu’s words, even if generally scorned, touched a nerve by making explicit what is usually implied: The parallel between present-day North Korea and Mao-era China, both cults of personality steeped in grinding poverty. What savors of netizen schadenfreude at the North’s plight is in many ways simple relief that those days are now behind them. 

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.
  • http://twitter.com/NKNewsBrief SJ Park

    Thanks for these, keep them coming! 

    • Dwertime

      We will–thanks for reading! Hope we can keep you coming back.

  • http://twitter.com/NKNewsBrief SJ Park

    Thanks for these, keep them coming! 

    • Dwertime

      We will–thanks for reading! Hope we can keep you coming back.

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