One of China’s most popular newspapers has taken the unusual step of publishing a warning to North Korea over its intentions to conduct further nuclear tests.
A bilingual editorial in the Global Times newspaper (via BBC News) says China must reduce aid to North Korea if the hermit state follows through on its threat to conduct a third nuclear test. The editorial states:
“If North Korea insists on a third nuclear test despite attempts to dissuade it, it must pay a heavy price. The assistance it will be able to receive from China should be reduced. The Chinese government should make this clear beforehand to shatter any illusions Pyongyang may have.
“China is never afraid of Pyongyang… If Pyongyang gets tough with China, China should strike back hard, even at the cost of deteriorating bilateral relations.”
This is notably frank language from a Chinese media outlet, particularly one such as the Global Mail. As a daily tabloid owned by the Communist Party of China, it could be argued the Mail‘s editorial stance is not too distant from the policies of the administration in Beijing.
China and North Korea are traditionally close allies. As well as being responsible for the bulk of aid given annually to North Korea, China is also the primary trade partner of the isolated state.
However, ties between the two countries have been strained recently, with Beijing displeased by the North’s threat of further nuclear tests and the North unhappy at China’s support for a fresh round of UN sanctions.
Pyongyang has also issued several bellicose threats in recent weeks. As well as ordering its military to be ready for war, one recent piece of North Korean propaganda was a provocative video (embedded below) featuring an American city engulfed in flames.
Such sabre-rattling from North Korea is a common tactic and is often used by Pyongyang to gain diplomatic leverage while shoring up domestic support.
Should North Korea’s third nuclear test go ahead as announced, some Chinese pundits argue Beijing should act forcefully. Zhang Liangui, a North Korea expert at the Communist Party’s Central Party School, tells the Global Times that China “will forever lose the chance to play a dominant role” in resolving the crisis if it fails to prevent Pyongyang from going ahead with its next test. Professor Zhang adds:
“This is a grave test of China’s diplomacy.”
Conversely, some experts believe China’s displeasure is purely rhetorical. One diplomatic source familiar with Sino-North Korean relations told Daily NK:
“Around 90% of North Korea’s foreign currency is secured from China. If trade with China were suspended then the survival of the Kim Jong Eun regime would become impossible.
“Although China is sending multiple warnings about a North Korean nuclear test, because China prioritizes maintaining the Kim Jong Eun regime there will not be any major changes.”