SEOUL -- North Korean state media have issued a stinging denunciation of the country’s chief ally and diplomatic backer China, saying Beijing should be grateful for its protection.
The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) carried a bylined commentary warning of “grave consequences” if China tests its patience further.
Beijing and Pyongyang have a relationship forged in the blood of the Korean War, and the Asian giant remains its wayward neighbor’s main provider of aid and trade.
But ties have begun to fray in recent years, with China increasingly exasperated by the North’s nuclear antics, fearful of a regional crisis.
Beijing regularly calls for parties to avoid raising tensions — remarks that can apply to both Washington and Pyongyang — and in February it announced the suspension of coal imports from the North for the rest of the year, a crucial foreign currency earner for the authorities.
Chinese state-run media have called for harsher sanctions against the North in the event of a fresh atomic test, urged Pyongyang to “avoid making mistakes at this time”, and spoken of the need for it to abandon its nuclear programs.
The KCNA commentary bylined “Kim Chol” — believed to be a pseudonym — denounced the “reckless remarks” and said nothing will shake Pyongyang’s determination.
“The DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear programme which is as precious as its own life,” it said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The commentary late Wednesday added that Pyongyang had acted as a buffer between Beijing and Washington since the Korean War in the 1950s, “contributed to protecting peace and security of China” and that its ally should “thank the DPRK for it”.
Beijing should not try to test the limits of the North’s patience, it said, warning: “China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK-China relations.”
The text is a sign of the level to which ties between the two have deteriorated — North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has yet to visit Beijing, more than five years after taking power.
Washington is meanwhile pushing Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week warned the UN Security Council of “catastrophic consequences” if the international community — most notably China — failed to pressure the North into abandoning its weapons program.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi brushed aside Tillerson’s comments, saying that “the key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side”.