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China restricts Kim Jong Nam assassination coverage

Beijing is worried public opinion could turn against North Korea.

By Elizabeth Shim
China restricts Kim Jong Nam assassination coverage
A Chinese soldier stands guard outside the North Korean embassy in Beijing. Kim Jong Nam, the older half-brother of Kim Jong Un, was living under Chinese protection before he was assassinated at an airport in Malaysia. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 17 (UPI) -- The assassination of the older half-brother of Kim Jong Un may have a serious impact on the Chinese leadership because of its North Korea ties, but news of the slaying is being severely restricted in China.

Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported that Chinese authorities issued a notice to domestic media on Wednesday, instructing news organizations to limit their coverage to syndicated news articles or to use Malaysian news sources, an indication no on-ground-reporting was being allowed.

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The state also ordered journalists to arrange the layout of their newspapers or websites so the assassination story was never given "top" priority.

For online news sites, any article on Kim Jong Nam must be placed anywhere below the 10th line of text on the page, according to the report.

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Articles that speculate on the cause of Kim Jong Nam's death, or past stories on Kim, live broadcasts from Malaysia on the story and comments tied to the story have been banned.

One Chinese journalist who spoke to the Asahi on the condition of anonymity said Beijing is concerned about public opinion, which is heavily leaning toward North Korea abandonment.

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"In this situation, any statement alleging 'North Korea assassinated [Kim Jong Nam]' could only aggravate the situation," the source said.

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Kim's slaying presents a challenge for Chinese President Xi Jinping, because the once-favored son of former leader Kim Jong Il was living under Chinese protection, The Financial Times reported.

China had also been making some effort to renew deteriorating ties around the Lunar New Year, when diplomatic officials from both sides held receptions and pledged friendship.

North Korea's missile test on Sunday drew condemnations from Beijing, but Kim Jong Nam's death was a far worse blow, experts say.

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Paul Haenle, a former adviser to U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said, "Kim Jong Nam's assassination is much more of a blow than the missile test...For China, Kim Jong Nam carried the credibility of the Kim family lineage and was also supportive of Chinese-style economic reform."

China has said it is monitoring developments following what has been described as a fatal poisoning of the older Kim at a Kuala Lumpur airport.

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