North Korea defends its racist comments about Obama


This undated photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, second from left, and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, at an airfield. (Korean Central News Agency via Agence France-Presse)

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) rarely offers worthwhile reading material for Western audiences. The prose is often leaden or hopelessly flowery, and the stories often deal with dull domestic news or the praise showered on Kim Jong Un by obscure foreign sources.

Even so, one recent article featured by KCNA was exceptionally unpleasant. In a May 2 article titled "Divine retribution for the juvenile delinquent Obama!” and published only in Korean, President Obama was referred to as a “clown,” a “dirty fellow," and “a crossbreed with unclear blood.” The bizarre comments were later picked up by U.S. news media and soon spread like wildfire.

This week, North Korea finally offered an explanation for those remarks. And while the explanation may sound limp, it is also more revealing than it first appears.

On Monday, KCNA released an article that featured comments from a spokesperson for North Korea's Foreign Ministry. In it, the unidentified spokesperson explained that the "resentment" expressed against Obama in the article was "a proper reaction to him who malignantly insulted and slandered the dignified DPRK during his junket to south Korea."

Referring to comments apparently made by Obama during his recent trip to Asia, the article said, "This is an unpardonable insult to the people of the DPRK who are leading a happy life under the benevolent socialist system and considering independence dearer than their life and their resentment at the U.S. is running high."

It's not a great excuse, and it ignores arguments that North Korea has a fundamentally “race-based” worldview, as historians such as B.R. Myers have contended. But it does seem to reflect a broader trend in North Korean media: a profound insecurity.

Obama's trip to Asia touched upon South Korea's problems with the North. The president hinted at more sanctions against the North, highlighted human rights problems in the country and said the North's nuclear program posed a "direct threat" to the United Sates. News also came out that the United States could postpone its planned handover of wartime command of South Korea's forces, previously slated for 2015.

The vicious language used against Obama isn't isolated. Homophobic language was recently used to attack the openly gay judge who led a U.N. inquiry on human rights abuses in North Korea. KCNA then followed up with a list of human rights abuses in the United States – a list that included criticism of American "racialism" and the treatment of minorities. The North also recently called South Korean President Park Geun-hye an “old prostitute.”

North Korea's insults against the South, the United States and the United Nations may be vile, but they are also reactionary, defensive and ultimately incoherent. It's a clear sign that the international community's criticisms and warnings are getting under the skin.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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