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China censors Kim Jong Un's 'Fatty' nickname

November 17, 2016

Internet firms Baidu and Weibo are censoring a widely-used disparaging nickname for the North Korean leader, poking fun at his girth, reports suggest. The censorship comes as China reiterates its "internet sovereignty."

Nordkorea Kim Jong Un in einer Keksfabrik
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Rodong Sinmun

While technology trade groups and oversight organizations fear an increasing Chinese crackdown on internet freedoms, North Korea's Kim Jong Un's reputation is being shielded among his neighbor's populace.

On Wednesday, major Chinese websites, such as leading search engine Baidu and blogging platform Weibo, began censoring a widely-used disparaging nickname for the North Korean leader, "Kim Fatty the Third."

According to a Hong Kong newspaper, searches for the Chinese term "Jin San Pang" returned no results this week, after North Korean officials reportedly conveyed their displeasure surrounding the name to their Chinese counterparts. The report suggests that the officials launched a formal request prohibiting Chinese web firms and media outlets from showing names disparaging Kim.

However, Chinese Foreign Minister Spokesman Geng Shuang dismissed the reports, saying they "didn't comply with the facts."

"The Chinese government stays committed to building a healthy and civilized environment of opinions," Geng said. "We disapprove of referring to the leader of any country with insulting and mocking remarks."

"Kim Fatty the Third" is a widely-used term by derisive young Chinese internet users, mocking the North Korean leader's corpulence and his status as the third generation to rule world's only hereditary communist regime. It also sometimes appeared within Baidu's auto-complete suggestions.

Baidu spokeswoman Tracy Hu declined to comment on reports that the search engine was censoring its results for the term. Typically, the Beijing company has stated that its policy is to provide accurate search results that comply with Chinese government regulations.

China remains the only country that continues to support Kim's regime with limited trade and diplomatic backing. However, relations have strained recently, with Beijing joining the rest of the world's powers in condemning the North's nuclear weapons program.

Xi calls for 'fair and equitable' online governance

The reports comes as the world's leading technology companies meet with Chinese officials this week at the annual state-run World Internet Conference in Wuzhen. During the conference opening on Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for "more fair and equitable" governance of the internet - an initiative at odds with the largely unchecked market US firms enjoy domestically and elsewhere.

China World Internet Conference
World Internet Conference brings together Chinese officials and the likes of Google, Facebook and Alibaba.Image: picture-alliance/Landov

Xi reiterated the Chinese official position of "internet sovereignty" over its 700 million internet users. Officials have always stated their desire to work with the global industry for mutual benefit, provided security is assured on China's terms.

Its entrenched and often competing viewpoints on the internet, trade and cybersecurity vis-à-vis the United States have become an irritant in the countries' bilateral relations. Earlier this month, China passed a controversial cybersecurity bill giving law enforcement greater power to access private data. The law also stipulates that all data created in China must be stored on local web servers. US firms have accused the measure of walling off China's internet and restricting market access.

While censoring "Kim Fatty the Third" may seem trivial in the greater scheme, it provides a timely reminder that the Chinese government's vision for the internet rests on a tightly controlled online space.

dm/msh (AP)