A screenshot of educational cartoons from an advisory in China’s Jilin Daily newspaper telling citizens how to best survive a nuclear explosion and radiation. (Screenshot by Luna Lin/The Washington Post)
BEIJING — A provincial state newspaper on China’s border with North Korea spooked a few people Wednesday by dedicating an entire page to advice for local residents on how they might survive a nuclear war.
The advisory, by the official Jilin Daily, was picked up by many online news services and circulated widely on Chinese social media, forcing the paper and other state media outlets to hurriedly issue statements trying to calm people down.
The full-page advisory, entitled “General Knowledge about Nuclear Weapons and Protection,” included a series of cartoons reminiscent of the rather hopeful public service announcements in 1950s America advising children to “duck and cover” in order to survive a nuclear attack. Yet it also marked one of the first times that official China has talked seriously about the threat of a nuclear war.
The cartoons suggest people close their doors and windows if they can’t reach an air raid shelter, and hide under a table or bed in the corner of a room.
Other advice: If a bomb goes off when you are near a river, pond or lake — jump in it.
If you do go outside after an explosion, wear a mask and protective clothing, wash exposed parts of your body and scrub your boots. Contaminated clothing should be firmly shaken clean and hung on a tree, and your ears should be thoroughly cleaned.
(See this blog for a closer look at those cartoons).
The Jilin Provincial People’s Air Defense Office later told Chinese media it was responsible for the advisory, saying it aimed to strengthen “national defense education” and explaining that many countries issue such advice through the media. The outside world should not overinterpret it, Xu Yucheng, deputy director of the air defense office, told Beijing News.
Indeed, residents of Japan’s northwest coast this year have been ordered to take part in air raid drills, and sirens sounded in northern Japan when a North Korean missile sailed over the country in August.
But this is a rare acknowledgment by the Chinese authorities that the situation on the Korean Peninsula could affect their own citizens.
The national tabloid Global Times issued an editorial reassuring people that the government was tracking the situation closely and has made adequate preparations for all kinds of circumstances. The possibility of a direct attack on China, either by North Korea or the United States, was almost nonexistent, it wrote.
But it also acknowledged that the situation on the Korean Peninsula was deteriorating and that “preparing for a bad situation is very necessary.”
“In particular, if war breaks out, the possibility of nuclear contamination on the peninsula cannot be ruled out,” it wrote. “This in particular requires serious research into countermeasures, and we should also be frank and inform people about the real situation.”
China has long acted as North Korea’s strongest ally and economic lifeline. It has become extremely frustrated with Pyongyang, but refuses to take any steps that might bring down or destabilize the regime.
But Beijing is extremely sensitive to the risks to its own population, for example if nuclear radiation were to seep across the border from an accident or war in North Korea. Experts say that possibility is one of the few things that might change China’s strategic calculation.
Wang Sheng, a North Korea expert at Jilin University in Changchun, said that given the province’s proximity to the Korean Peninsula, it was understandable that the provincial newspaper had published the advice.
“When it comes to the situation in the Korean Peninsula, sentiment is gloomy and worried, especially in northeastern China,” he said. “We shouldn’t overinterpret this. It doesn’t necessarily mean that war is imminent.”
Luna Lin and Liu Yang contributed to this report.