Chinese Media Is Subdued in the Face of North Korea-U.S. Standoff

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BEIJING — Commentators around the world are warning of a potential crisis on the Korean Peninsula. But in China, where the state controls much of the news media, the headlines have been subdued.

Over the past two weeks, as North Korea has tested missiles and the United States has threatened to send warships to the region, there was just one fleeting front page reference to the tensions in People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party.

Experts say Beijing’s relative silence may be an attempt to placate both Kim Jong-un of North Korea and President Trump, as well as to prevent the Chinese public from panicking.

Here is a look at the themes dominating coverage of North Korea in the Chinese media, and what they reveal about Beijing’s attitude toward Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump.

A Friend Like China

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Sina Finance, a Chinese web portal, circulated a meme juxtaposing President Trump with an angry yellow bird. Credit Sina Finance

China, as one of North Korea’s few remaining allies and its primary source of food and oil, has long been criticized for not doing more to rein in its volatile neighbor.

So the news media there seemed to rejoice when, following a recent meeting in Florida with President Xi Jinping, Mr. Trump told Fox News that “China’s trying to help us.”

A clip of the interview went viral in China, where headline writers liberally reinterpreted Mr. Trump’s comments. State-controlled news sites put words in his mouth. “China treats us so well,” one outlet quoted Mr. Trump as saying.

In the interview, Mr. Trump said of Mr. Xi: “What am I going to do, start a trade war with China in the middle of him working on a bigger problem, frankly, with North Korea?” But the Chinese media summed up that sentiment as: “And now you’re asking me to stab China in the back? Don’t you have a conscience?”

That remark also inspired memes like the one above, published by Sina Finance, a news portal. The image in the meme, already popular in China, is a visibly perturbed yellow bird, apparently representing Mr. Trump. The caption below it reads: “Don’t you have a conscience?”

Highlighting American Aggression

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On Chinese television, no discussion of North Korea is complete without footage of bombs and warplanes, helping to reinforce an image of American military aggression. In this segment, which aired on CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, such footage accompanied commentary on whether the United States will go to war with North Korea.

On North Korea and other issues, the Chinese news media often portrays the United States as a meddling, militaristic force.

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Global Times, a Chinese nationalist tabloid, depicted the United States as a meddling man in a dark top hat. Credit Global Times

In this cartoon, published by Global Times, a stridently nationalist tabloid, the United States is depicted as a menacing man in a top hat, falsely accusing other countries of wrongdoing.

Comrades in Arms

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Mao Zedong once said China and North Korea, longtime Communist allies, were “as close as lips and teeth.” But the relationship has suffered setbacks in recent years as frustration in China has grown over the North’s volatile behavior.

Still, Chinese news outlets continue to treat the regime with some deference. When Pyongyang recently put on a military parade, the Chinese media covered it faithfully.

In this CCTV clip, a news announcer dryly narrates the parade, commenting on its “originality” and adherence to Soviet style.

The North Koreans proudly displayed missiles at the event, which they claim could soon carry nuclear warheads. But during the segment, any plans for a North Korean nuclear weapon simply went unmentioned.

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