This article has been rewritten and revised from a previous article in regards to the latest round of threats from North Korea in world media. Just like the spring of 2013, they were echoed around the world in response to the annual war games carried out between the US and South Korea. They were, however lost in an ocean of more immediate world news events. This article will illustrate the potential reasons why you have seen North Korea hit the headlines so fervently in the past, and why you will continue to see them reoccurring for the foreseeable future.
“No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains.” Xi Jinping
So said Chinese president, at the Boao Forum for Asia in the Spring of 2013. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had similarly ambiguous declarations saying that they would not “allow trouble-making on China’s doorstep”. The way these statements were covered by the press were less ambivalent.
The vast majority of media coverage of statements that were (at the time) a new Chinese cabinet, including the English language Chinese press, leaned heavily toward them being a reference to North Korea. Even Wang Xinsheng, historian at Peking University, said: “I think this is a clear message to North Korea and I also think it was one of the toughest remarks on the issue by a Chinese leader.”
The threat of a North Korean-induced nuclear war sent some South Koreans into a panic. At my office in Suwon, a city just south of Seoul, two of my Korean co-teachers were incredibly worried about the ‘escalation of tensions’ from Korean news channels they watched. They told me of how they were worried for their children’s safety as the worldwide reports grew in tension. A Canadian employee, who was supposed to take my place as I moved on to pastures new, backed out of coming, as did the next replacement. Both women’s parents told them not to come here because of the perceived military threat from the relatively new ruler of the DPRK at the time.
It wasn’t surprising. Adverse to what the Canadian embassies were telling my fellow expatriates, world media was bellowing out a frightening tune. Tourists, Embassy workers and foreigners of all sorts were being warned of impending catastrophic events.
Never mind the usual spin doctors at Fox news and CNN – almost all corporate media at the time seemed to be saying the same thing – there is an imminent crisis and North Korea are highly unstable. Some of them took a more sober approach to the fervor, but only after they span the original perceived threats.
Yet I’m sure that there were also a large percentage of Koreans who were nonplussed about the tensions. After all, they’ve had to live under the constant threat of war since the armistice. Same to with the longer-serving expats here who have since become jaded to the recurring media frenzy, although at the time I didn’t have much contact with this brand of foreigner more commonly known as the ‘lifer’.
This is why I had to reassure those replacing me at work that the situation is merely a storm in a teacup – a media concoction – not because I knew it at the time, but I needed someone to replace me before my travels in the tropics.
I was looking forward to some heat, but not on a nuclear level.
I searched for some reassuring links to send my replacement that offered a more sober side to the situation. However, having not paid much attention to the trending headlines at the time, even I started to have doubts as I trawled through the various elaborate stories.
I decided to take a different approach; I searched for reasons why Kim Jong Un’s regime might be being touted so heavily as a threat to countries far more powerful than their own.
Eventually I stumbled upon Obama’s so-called ‘Asian Pivot’.
The Asian Pivot. What is it?
It’s the American side step from provocations in Iran towards one of their biggest global rivals, China. What better way to get the American public behind an increased presence here in the East than echoing the threats of one of one of America’s favorite terror states, part of the ‘Axis of Evil‘, as George W. Bush named it.
The basic theory, according to BBC’s China correspondent Damian Grammaticas, is that: “America is ensuring it is strategically poised to project power over the vital trade routes that pass through the South China Sea, and it wants to reassure its partners in Asia it is cementing that position.” The provocations arising from the annual war games the US plays with South Korea on the North’s doorstep followed by the global media spinning from the North’s elaborate self-defense warnings, are usually a good bet to sway public consensus toward increased defense spending in the US.
Not that China aren’t following suit.
The influence that some media outlets describe as North Korean ‘bellicose rhetoric’ may have on the television-owning American public might pacify a consensus as their government ships off a fresh batch of military hardware to some of their numerous bases in the Asia-Pacific region. Not to mention the trade deals they conduct with Asian countries.
This consent is necessary when it’s the same media consumers’ tax dollars that are being spent. Especially when even public voices such as Jon Stewart, hero of many a tuned-in liberal, is mindlessly promoting carpet bombing North Korea to the chants of “USA! USA!”. No matter how embarrassed he may have appeared following the studio audiences’ response, it’s attitudes like this among influential media voices that can vilify a country to the point of unanimity – and i’m not talking about the USA.
Then again, humor is and has always been an easily-digestible way to demonize an enemy. In fact, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently publicly declared North Korea to be: “an evil place”. In this context, one could infer that the secretive state is not the only source of ‘bellicose rhetoric’.
The comedy directed at the Orwellian North Korean regime provides almost as rich a source as their suspected untapped mineral deposits. Leonard Petrov states in The Montreal Review that “North Korea is sitting on a goldmine”, whilst Scott Thomas Bruce of The Diplomat states: “North Korea may have as much as $6 trillion USD in rare earth elements.” In this regard, not only is North Korea an effective if unassuming ambassador for scaremongering, but it could be a tricky yet highly profitable business partner to any players gutsy enough to gamble on the it’s highly unstable wheel of fortune.
Contrary to what most of the news sources claimed about Jingping’s “selfish gains” comment, reading between the lines provides a more dynamic perspective. Who is really making “trouble on China’s doorstep”, as Wang Yi put it? Could it be Kim Jong Un and his unpredictable ways, or could it even be a reference to the US foreign policy – in particular it’s war games, corporate-owned mass media, arms trades to neighboring countries and a general increase in competition for the the Asian-Pacific trade waters?
After all, China’s got some fresh produce too.
It appears as though the two Chinese officials may have been misquoted again regarding such issues.
I’ve had a chance to search Jinping’s comments one year on and I am pleased to find that I was not the only reactionary that felt the comments were leveled at America. Searching the same quote on Google today brings up a refreshingly mixed set of results whereas at the time there were mostly articles pointing his comments towards North Korea.
With the current focus on the Ukraine, it’s been easy to forget that it’s that time of year again. With so many international uprisings, we’ve forgotten to be scared about North Korea’s latest supposed threats. But luckily not all news sources are bought and paid for, and sanity prevails upon wider inspection.
Maybe we’ll care more when we’re engulfed in a sea of fire?
It’s best not to pay it much attention.
The same media outlets that are telling you to be scared are the ones that are owned by conglomerates profiting from ‘defense’ contracts. MSNBC is owned by General Electric which has many such contracts worth tens of billions of dollars. CNN is owned by Time Warner Telecom, who have their own business with the military, and Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, admitted on television that he used his network to influence public opinions toward Iraq. CBS corporation also have defense contracts. Considering that six conglomerates own 90 per cent of commercial US media and that they all have investments in the defense industry (yes, even Disney), it’s not hard to see why they might have a general leaning into provoking the general public into a state of fear and agency towards sending over a little American style freedom across the globe.
Sure they have shows and presenters who may have a certain amount of freedom, but when the ships are ready to sail and you’re not onboard, so to speak, well – ask Phil Donahue about the procedure.
Even the pundits the major outlets interview have defense contracts. Trusting news sources is a minefield in which the only way to garner a sense of truth is that of what you ultimately deem that to be yourself. It’s a matter of investigating the sources and coming to your own conclusions. Of course this isn’t a luxury afforded by everyone with the time constraints we have in our daily lives, hence the power of a headline.
It’s even harder to separate the crooks from the crusaders when government propaganda is being packaged in increasingly slicker and subversive ways than ever before.
Of course, media spokespeople who deceptively influence the public for profiteering motives shouldn’t be particularly newsworthy – it happens all the time.
It’s just a case of history repeating – right Walt?