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U.S Turns To China For Help With North Korea Cyberattack


Let's report now on some angry rhetoric coming from North Korea. They are threatening attacks on the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland if the United States retaliates for what it says was a North Korean cyberattack on Sony Pictures. The North praised the hackers and slammed the Sony movie "The Interview," about a fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. NPR's Anthony Kuhn joins us on the line from Beijing to talk about these developments. Anthony, good morning.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi there, David.

GREENE: So tell me more about these threats from North Korea and exactly who they're coming from.

KUHN: These threats came in a long piece from the National Defense Commission, which is headed by North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un. And they were run in the state news agency, and this piece was full of harsh rhetoric - calling the U.S. a cesspool of terrorism and insisting that the U.S. government was actually behind the movie instead of a privately made picture. Basically, the North Koreans were saying that this picture had insulted Kim's dignity, and it promised harsh retribution for that.

GREENE: We know President Obama made some remarks about this yesterday. Does it seem like North Korea's responding to what he said?

KUHN: Yes, the remarks came out late Sunday night. They were apparently responding to remarks that the president made that were aired on CNN yesterday. He said that the hacking attack on Sony was not an act of war, it was really an act of what he called cybervandalism. And he said the U.S. would respond proportionately, so North Korea was saying if the U.S. responds, it would respond even more harshly.

GREENE: Well, Anthony, one thing the United States is doing is asking China for help here. I mean, China's North Korea's only real ally. If the U.S. wants Beijing to do something, what exactly could Beijing do?

KUHN: Well, David, North Korea reportedly accesses the Internet using China's networks. And the U.S. would like China to rein in North Korea to get it to stop committing hacking attacks. I asked China's Foreign Ministry about this at a daily briefing today. And they said that Secretary of State Kerry talked to his Chinese counterpart, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on Sunday. And Wang said that China condemns all forms of hacking attacks, and he added that China opposes any other country using a third country's networks to commit hacking attacks. He didn't say that North Korea was using China's networks, but he implied that if that is the case, then China opposes it.

GREENE: Isn't there some irony here, though? I mean, the United States is asking China for help to prevent cyberwarfare. But the U.S. has actually accused China of hacking into U.S. databases and stealing industrial secrets for years now so - I mean, how is it possible to ask for China's help?

KUHN: Well, a Chinese tabloid called the Global Times, which doesn't really represent official viewpoints - it tends to represent a sort of a conservative viewpoint - said that, you know, the U.S. is asking for help without any hint of embarrassment, which is very odd because it accuses China of large-scale cyberespionage against the U.S., and here it is asking for China's help in going after North Korea. And analyst here really believe that China will not publicly side with the U.S. against North Korea. It will go along with anything that the U.N. suggests, but it's not in a political position to take sides with the U.S. and take any action against North Korea.

GREENE: All right, that was NPR's Anthony Kuhn joining us from Beijing. Anthony, thanks very much.

KUHN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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