News roundup: Female assassins kill North Korean leader’s half brother en route to China

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Top China news for February 16, 2017. Get this daily digest delivered to your inbox by signing up at

FILE - This combination of file photos shows Kim Jong Nam, left, exiled half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, in Narita, Japan, on May 4, 2001, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on May 9, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kim Jong Nam, 46, was targeted Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in a shopping concourse at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia, and died on the way to the hospital, according to a Malaysian government official. (AP Photos/Shizuo Kambayashi, Wong Maye-E, File)

Female assassins kill Kim Jong-un’s half brother

A woman wearing a sweater emblazoned with “LOL” and at least one accomplice apparently sprayed poison onto the face of Kim Jong-nam at an airport in Malaysia, resulting in his death. Kim Jong-nam was the older half brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. He died on the way to the hospital after seeking help at a clinic in Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. He was waiting for a flight to Macau when he was attacked. Malaysian authorities have announced the arrest of three suspects, two women and a man. The National Post has published an article that tries to piece together how Kim was assassinated, including details on the women who apparently sprayed poison on his face.

The South China Morning Post looks at how the killing may “add further tension to China’s already strained relations with its troublesome neighbor.” The Christian Science Monitor says that since coming to power, “Kim Jong-un has had more than 140 North Korean officials executed in an effort to eliminate threats to his leadership.”

Today on SupChina

We publish a Sinica Podcast episode on Africa-China journalism. The story of Chinese involvement in Africa is complex and coverage is often polarized, so Jeremy speaks with Barry Van Wyk and Bob Wekesa about their efforts to promote a “human grassroots approach” among Chinese and African reporters.

DEA applauds China’s ban of dangerous opioid

Carfentanil is a drug used as an anesthetic for elephants and other large animals. In the summer of 2016, it started being sold by American illegal drug dealers, causing hundred of drug users to overdose. The manufacture and sale of the drug was legal in China, but it will be banned from March 1, along with three similar drugs, according to the Ministry of Public Security. The American Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) called China’s move a potential “game-changer.” ABC News quotes a DEA special agent who says that “it’s a substantial step in the fight against opioids here in the United States.”

—Jeremy Goldkorn, Editor in Chief

This issue of the SupChina newsletter was produced by Sky Canaves, Lucas Niewenhuis, and Jiayun Feng. More China stories worth your time are curated below, with the most important ones at the top of each section.


  • China’s artificial intelligence boom / The Atlantic
    At the 2017 AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence held in San Francisco last week, China  made a strong presence as “a nearly equal number of accepted papers came from researchers based in China and the U.S.” This is quite different from the situation several years ago when American research completely dominated the meeting.
    In addition to Chinese academic institutions making huge progress in AI research, Chinese tech giants have also set their sights on AI. Among them is Baidu, which opened a new augmented reality lab in Beijing earlier this year and announced that its venture capital fund would invest in a whole group of early-stage companies working on this cutting-edge technology. When it comes to weaponizing artificial intelligence, China is also advancing rapidly due to the “cozy relationship” of Chinese technology companies and China’s government. For more on the rise of AI in China, listen to this episode of Sinica Podcast with Andrew Ng, chief scientist of Baidu who now directs Baidu’s AI research in Silicon Valley.


  • China penalizes 6.7 million debtors with travel ban / Financial Times (paywall)
    The Supreme People’s Court of China released records yesterday showing that nearly 7 million people have been banned from purchasing airline tickets or boarding high-speed trains because they are in debt. A host of other misdeeds, including lying in court and hiding financial assets, can now land a Chinese citizen negative “social credit.” The system has been developed experimentally for some time (see an Economist article from last December, and a Tech in Asia article from last November), but the number of people on the blacklist and the government’s use of the list has been expanding gradually for over a year. For more on big data and its applications in China, see “Cashing in on dystopia,” a SupChina feature by David Bandurski.


  • How Americans and Chinese view their countries and each other, in three charts / Quartz
    In a January survey conducted by Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Americans held a negative opinion of China, viewing the country as either an adversary or a serious problem. A separate survey in 2016 indicated that a total of 55 percent of Americans had an unfavorable attitude to China, while 44 percent of Chinese felt similar antipathy to the U.S. From 2006 to 2016, Americans’ negative view of China has increased by 26 percentage points. In comparison, the Chinese unfavorable view of the U.S. remained at a relatively low rate of under 50 percent for most of Barack Obama’s presidency. The January survey also showed that an increasing number of Americans believe that their country is now a declining power in the global arena. The Chinese public, on the other hand, see its nation’s influence as on the rise.
  • The problem of rising bride prices in China’s bare branch villages / What’s on Weibo
    In rural areas of contemporary China, a common challenge facing many single men is how to pay staggering prices to a bride’s family upon marriage. As an age-old tradition in China, especially in less-developed areas, bride price refers to the money or goods paid by the groom or his family to the parents of the bride before marriage. Over the past years, bride prices in some areas have reached an astonishingly high level of around 100,000 yuan ($14,000), which most single rural men can’t afford. The situation, according to sociologist Zhang Yi, is in part due to China’s gender imbalance, which has resulted in a surplus of men; the fact that the majority of Chinese single young men live in rural regions whereas most young women are concentrated in bigger cities; and the growing trend of so-called “bride price culture.”