Beijing and Pyongyang may be like teeth and gum as brothers in arms (OK, basically, and not always when it comes to North Korea’s people-to-people diplomacy level). Anyway, here is some disharmony from the central levels, in broad daylight (European time).
Pyongyang’s shortwave signal on 13760 kHz comes in handily a few minutes before 15:00 hours GMT, only to be drowned by China Radio International (CRI) a few seconds before the full hour. Not on the same frequency, actually – China’s shortwave transmitter, probably located near Kashgar, blows the North Korean signal away with CRI’s Mandarin program. Both the Chinese and North Korean transmissions seem to target Europe, and while the Chinese signal on 13755 is doing fine, Pyongyang’s on 13760 becomes hard to copy, even with a narrow bandwith.
No clue where the target area of China’s 15245 kHz transmission, also at 15:00 GMT, is, but either way, that’s exactly the second frequency where you might get a good signal from North Korea (if CRI wasn’t there – in English). The same frequency in this case, rather than 5 kHz further down.
Radio is about signals. So is diplomacy. Is this coincidence? Carelessness? Intentional? Or does shortwave hardly matter for North Korea, as a Deutsche Welle article suggested earlier this year, in an article about Voice of Korea’s German service?
Even North Korean friendship societies don’t listen to the foreign broadcasts. People get their information about the situation on the peninsula from newspapers or the internet, employees of two organizations in Germany and Austria say. So why a German-speaking foreign broadcaster?
A foreign broadcasting station in different languages was an important status symbol for Pyongyang, Kai Hafez, communications scientist at Erfurt University, tells Deutsche Welle. “Countries like North Korea want to prove their modernity with their foreign broadcasts. One needs to have that, no matter if it has an effect, or if it hasn’t.”
Doch selbst nordkoreanische Freundschaftsgesellschaften hören den Auslandsfunk nicht. Man informiere sich aus Zeitungen und über das Internet über die Lage auf der Halbinsel, ist von Mitarbeitern zweier Organisationen in Deutschland und Österreich zu hören. Warum also ein deutschsprachiger Auslandssender?
Ein Auslandsrundfunk in verschiedenen Sprachen sei für Pjöngjang vor allem als Statussymbol wichtig, sagt Kai Hafez, Kommunikationswissenschaftler an der Universität Erfurt, im Gespräch mit der Deutschen Welle. “Länder wie Nordkorea wollen mit ihrem Auslandsrundfunk einen Modernitätsnachweis liefern. Man muss so etwas haben, ganz egal, ob es wirkt oder nicht”.
Even if Hafez is right – or especially if he is right about the status issue – the interference won’t go down well with Pyongyang. North Korea only operates on a few frequencies. Chinese broadcasters – CRI and domestic stations – operate on many. So many that it is hard to tell if this interference is intentional or not.
Trust between North Korea and China is limited anyway, when it comes to shortwave radio. When North Korea bought one (or several) of the more recent transmitters bought by North Korea, from a Chinese manufacturer, BBEF Science & Technology Co., Ltd., in 2011, the company – according to their website – had to train the North Korean technicians in China, rather than on the ground in North Korea: the transmitters(‘) location(s) in North Korea were a state secret.