China is inarguably North Korea’s most important trade partner and most powerful ally.
Earlier this year, China suspended coal imports from North Korea in response to growing pressure from President Trump to help the US quell Kim Jong-un’s aggression and resolve the nuclear standoff. China has also used state media to increase the pressure on Pyongyang to halt its missile tests.
“China will not allow its northeastern region to be contaminated by North Korea’s nuclear activities,” announced the nationalist tabloid Global Times. In recent days, the publication has also warned that China would strike back “at any side that crosses the red line” and would enact an oil embargo if North Korea conducts another missile test.
In response, North Korea has warned that China’s “reckless remarks” about its nuclear program could trigger “grave” consequences.
This threat, issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KNCA), comes alongside a shift in Chinese public opinion as businessmen and politicians start to view Pyongyang as a liability – especially if its behavior leads to unwelcome US interference in northeast Asia.
“China should no longer try to test the limits of the DPRK’s patience,” reads the KNCA commentary. “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.”
Cheong Seong-chang, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute, says Pyongyang’s discontent with China seems to be on the “verge of exploding.” He predicts the North will ignore China for the time being, instead focusing on its relationship with Russia and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was sworn in this Wednesday.
Moon seeks to find peace with his northern neighbor, and has vowed that he will fly to Washingotn, Beijing, Tokyo, and – “under the right conditions” – to Pyongyang in order to do so.
Meanwhie, the CIA has responded to North Korae’s threat by opening a new mission center that will be tasked solely with monitoring the peninsula.
“Creating the Korea Mission Center allows us to more purposefully integrate and direct CIA efforts against the serious threats to the United States and its allies emanating from North Korea,” said CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
Despite the Chinese media’s increased criticisms and threats against North Korea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang says that China’s position on “developing good neighborly and friendly cooperation with North Korea is also consistent and clear.”
Others have dismissed the media’s activity as irrelevant. “Currently, we’ve seen more cooperation between China and US to put pressure on North Korea,” explains nuclear policy expert Zhao Tong. “But drama between the two countries’ state media does not mean changes of policies on the government level.”