North Korean state media warned Thursday Beijing was crossing a “red line” in its relationship with Pyongyang, in a rare criticism of its closest ally.
A commentary in the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun vowed North Korea would not give up its nuclear program.
It accused China of “dancing to the tune of the U.S.” and providing Washington excuses to deploy more military assets to the Korean Peninsula.
The commentary urged two Chinese state-run newspapers, the People’s Daily and Global Times, to refrain from making reckless remarks which risked undermining relations between the two countries.
It comes after increased criticism of North Korea in Chinese state media amid heightened tensions in the region.
Rodong Sinmun specifically criticized the Chinese media’s call for more sanctions against North Korea as a way to avert war.
“We didn’t cross the ‘red line’ of the (North Korea)-China relationship,” the commentary said. “China is violently stomping on and crossing it without hesitation.”
It said the two Chinese publications asserted the North Korean nuclear weapons program was a threat to China.
“They even talked rubbish that (North Korea) strains the situation in northeast Asia and ‘offers the U.S. excuses for deploying more strategic assets’ in the region,” said the commentary attributed to an author named Kim Chol.
The commentary said North Korea’s nuclear program exists to protect the country from invasion and Pyongyang would not scrap it to ease tensions.
“(North Korea) will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is a precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is,” it said.
Analysts say North Korea appears concerned about the new threat posed by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
“North Korea sees Trump as more willing to use force,” said Robert Ross, a Boston College professor and China policy expert. “Chinese policies seem to be encouraging American policy and this has aroused concern in North Korea.”
Scott Snyder, senior fellow for Korea studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said North Korea statements were “indirect evidence” of the pressure Beijing is putting on the Kim Jong-Un regime.
But Snyder cautions that may not bring the result Washington wants — an end to North Korea’s nuclear program.
“A full break in Sino-North Korean relations would underscore North Korea’s independence,” Snyder said.
Asked about the commentary Thursday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing had been firm in its call for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula “to maintain the peace and stability of the region.”
Global Times, a state-sanctioned tabloid, slammed the Rodong Sinmun in a rebuttal Thursday.
“The editorial is nothing more than a hyper-aggressive piece completely filled with nationalistic passion,” it said. “Pyongyang is obviously grappling with some form of irrational logic over its nuclear program.”
But it did offer slight praise for Pyongyang for not yet conducting a sixth nuclear test and for being “comparatively restrained” in recent missile tests.
The last of those was last week, when a North Korea test missile exploded over North Korean territory, before it reached the ocean.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has continued military drills that have infuriated North Korea.
The latest of those was Monday, when two U.S. B-1 bombers from Guam conducted a joint drill with South Korea and Japan’s air forces over the Korean Peninsula, according to the U.S. Air Force.
After that exercise, Pyongyang said the US actions were bringing the region “to a point close to nuclear war.”