Chinese websites are reportedly censoring "Kim Fatty the Third," a derogatory nickname used by some internet users for the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, after receiving complaints from the country’s officials.
Usually a search for "Jin San Pang," the Chinese translation for the nickname, was so common that auto-complete algorithms would kick in on web portals such as Baidu, but a search this week returned no results, reported the Associated Press.
The alleged conciliatory move toward North Korea comes at a time when the relations between the two nations became increasingly strained this year following North Korea’s multiple nuclear tests. China, previously North Korea's most important ally and provider of food and energy, broke with previous diplomatic proceedings and joined other countries in imposing sanctions on North Korea after the tests.
Could this censorship hint at an attempt to ease tensions in their complicated relationship?
China's support, or lack thereof, can be crucial in forcing North Korea to curb its ambitions, as Michael Holtz recently reported for The Christian Science Monitor.
"It's China's responsibility," US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in September. "It's important that it use its location, its history, and its influence to further the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Regardless of international relations between China and North Korea, "Jin San Pang" has been a popular nickname that pokes fun at Mr. Kim's status and body size among the Chinese on the internet. But Chinese officials could be using censorship on those terms to subtly communicate its diplomatic standings.
In March, China unblocked a search term referring to Kim as "third-generation pig," according to Time, perhaps as a way to express its displeasure with North Korea's nuclear missile tests and signal China's participation in stricter United Nations sanctions on the country.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday that the reports of banning the nickname didn't "comply with facts."
"The Chinese government stays committed to building a healthy and civilized environment of opinions," he said. "We disapprove of referring to the leader of any country with insulting and mocking remarks."
Other versions of the nickname, however, are still searchable on the internet, such as "Kim Fat Fat Fat."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.