A screen capture of the English-language website for North Korea’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun, Tuesday / Korea Times
By Kim Young-jin
North Korea’s ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun has launched an English-language website in an apparent attempt to expand its reach in the international community.
An officer of the National Police Agency’s cyber division said authorities were moving to block access to the site in South Korea under the National Security law. The two Koreas are still technically at war.
The newspaper is the main mouthpiece of the Workers’ Party. The party also publishes a weekly English-language tabloid, the Pyongyang Times.
The officer said the site had been blocked for a time but became accessible as its operators had changed the IP address related the domain name.
The launch came as Pyongyang is securing the base of power for new leader Kim Jong-un following the death of his father Kim Jong-il last month. Though unclear whether the move was linked to the transition, analysts said it was the latest attempt to amplify the North’s voice outside its borders.
“North Korea is using every means to publicize its causes in the international community,” Park Young-ho of the Korea Institute for National Unification said. “The operation of the site would be another sign of that.”
Pyongyang also operates Facebook and Twitter accounts and other sites that provide links to state propaganda.
The new site, which South Koreans could access for a short time Tuesday, follows the form of the paper, focusing heavily on Kim Jong-un’s activities, domestic developments and editorials that are seen as the voice of the party.
It is rife with criticism of the Lee Myung-bak administration with which it has held icy ties. The North has continued its harsh rhetoric since Kim’s death, signaling it is likely to stick to his policies for now.
The top story as of Tuesday was Kim Jong-un’s visit to a prominent tank division on New Year’s Day, a move seen as consolidating his power among the military. Though Kim was elevated to “supreme commander” of the armed forces, analysts say he must win confidence among the elite to rule with a sure hand.
Also prominently featured was the opening of the Kwangbok Area Supermarket in Pyongyang, reportedly a venture with a Chinese firm. The store, at which the late Kim made his final reported public appearance, is seen as a symbol of the North’s limited foray into economic reforms.
The front page also displayed an image of earlier protests in South Korea against the recently-passed free trade agreement with the United States. Pyongyang routinely covers contentious issues in the South in an apparent bid to exacerbate tensions and influence public opinion here.
The contentious security law, enforced in 1948, makes illegal both communism and the recognition of North Korea as a political entity. Despite calls that it is a restriction of the freedom of speech, it is frequently used to block North Korean propaganda and investigate those who “praise, disseminate or cooperate with anti-state groups.”
The opening of the website also coincides with the North’s efforts to emerge as a “strong and prosperous” state ahead of the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung in April.
“Glorify the year 2012 as a year of proud victory... when an era of prosperity is unfolding,” a banner running atop the page read.
The site was also rife with references to the ongoing mourning over the late leader. A story titled “Kim Jong-il and the development of cinema art,” extolled the leader for his contributions to the field and expressed regrets for not featuring him in more films.
The “international” section comprised of news of bilateral developments with allies and included a report on a congratulatory note from Syrian leader Bashir al-Assad to Kim Jong-un on assuming leadership.
북한의 노동당 기관지 노동신문이 국제사회 인터넷 홈페이지에서 영문 서비스를 시작했다.
경찰청 사이버테러대응센터의 한 관계자에 의하면 북한의 국가보안법상 한국 사이트의 서비스를 차단했었다고 밝혔다. 북한과 남한은 사실상 전쟁 상태라고 볼 수 있다.
북한이 노동신문의 영문 서비스를 시작한 것은 김정은 체계구출 과정과 직접 연관이 있는지는 명확하지는 않지만 외국을 상대로 체제 선전을 강화하려는 의도로 풀이된다.
관계자는 사이트는 당분간 임시로 차단되었지만, 운영자가 서버의 IP주소와 도메인 이름을 바꾼 후 이용이 가능하게 되었다고 밝혔다.
영문 홈페이지는 지난해 12월1일부터 송고된 노동신문의 기사, 사설, 해설, 사진 등을 영어로 게시했고, 중앙에는 김정은 당 중앙군사위원회 부위원장이 지난 1일 `근위서울류경수 제105탱크사단'을 시찰해 장병과 함께 찍은 사진이 올라와 있다.
영문 홈페이지에서 국제뉴스는 북한 뉴스와 별도 항목으로 제공되고 있다. 앞서 북한 조선중앙통신도 작년 10월 영문 인터넷 홈페이지를 개설해 운영하고 있다.