North Korea is a bottomless fountain of apocalyptic threats against the U.S. and its allies, but on Wednesday, its state-run media lashed out against China with unprecedented fury, accusing the Chinese of “dancing to the tune of the U.S.” with “absurd and reckless remarks” about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
The North Korean outburst was prompted by a string of editorials in China’s similarly state-controlled media which “criticized the North’s nuclear weapons program and called for Beijing to cut off oil supplies if the North conducted another nuclear test,” as the New York Times summarizes them.
“One must clearly understand that the DPRK’s line of access to nukes for the existence and development of the country can neither be changed nor shaken, and that the DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is as precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is,” snarled the unusually harsh response from North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper. (“DPRK” is North Korea’s name for itself, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.)
“China should no longer try to test the limits of the DPRK’s patience. 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 op-ed continued.
North Korea accused China of providing “lame excuses for the base acts of dancing to the tune of the U.S.” and betraying Pyongyang’s friendship “in order to avert a war which would bring danger to China.” It railed against “absurd and reckless remarks” from “ignorant politicians and media persons” in China.
“We didn’t cross the ‘red line’ of the (North Korea)-China relationship. China is violently stomping on and crossing it without hesitation,” declared another passage spotlighted by CNN.
The editorial specifically complained about “rubbish” in Chinese publications accusing North Korea of creating tensions in northeast Asia and giving the United States “excuses for deploying more strategic assets.”
On the contrary, China should “acknowledge in an honest manner that the DPRK has just contributed to protecting peace and security of China, foiling the U.S. scheme for aggression by waging a hard fight in the front line of the showdown with the U.S. for more than seven decades, and thank the DPRK for it,” according to the North Korean paper.
The New York Times notes that this broadside was not an unsigned editorial from the editors at large but was attributed to a specific author named Kim Chol.
Of course, no one would imagine such a provocative article could be published by any North Korean outfit without the blessing of dictator Kim Jong-un, but putting a single name on the piece gives North Korea a little wiggle room to disavow its harsh words if China objects too strongly or does whatever is needed to calm the Kim regime down. In either of those eventualities, it is a safe bet that someone in Pyongyang named “Kim Chol” will have a very bad day.
Another cushion for the blow noted by the NYT is that Kim Chol’s op-ed did not castigate the government of China or the Communist Party per se; the fiery criticism was directed at Chinese media – which, of course, is only slightly more independent of the government and ruling party than North Korean media.
North Korean editorialists have grumbled about Chinese policy before, but it usually takes the important precaution of leaving China’s name out of the editorials, referring vaguely to a “neighboring country.”
Indications that China might decide to handle North Korea’s outburst with kid gloves quickly appeared. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed both Beijing’s “consistent and clear” position on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula and “good-neighborly and friendly relations with the DPRK.”
China’s Communist Party organ, the Global Times, at first responded with some soothing noises about the marvelous friendship between Beijing and Pyongyang, slipping in a few barbs about the importance of denuclearization, China’s unwillingness to “allow its northeastern region to be contaminated by North Korea’s nuclear activities,” and a little reminder that North Korea would have been defeated by South Korea and the United States in the 1950s without Chinese intervention.
On Thursday, the Global Times directly addressed the Kim Chol editorial, very pointedly observing it was the first time China was specifically named in such a tirade.
“Overall, the editorial is nothing more than a hyper-aggressive piece completely filled with nationalistic passion,” sniffed the Global Times. “Pyongyang obviously is grappling with some form of irrational logic over its nuclear program.”
The editorial goes on to tell North Korean media to pipe down while officials in Beijing and Pyongyang hammer out their policy differences through “higher levels of dialogue with one another.” A half-dozen passages in the Global Times response boil down to condescending advice that North Korean is making its situation worse by publicly criticizing China.
“The direction of China-North Korea relations remains in the hands of China. Whether KCNA editorials mention China or Chinese media by name or not, those missions will not change the inherent logic and trend of a relationship that has been in place for over six decades. The more editorials KCNA publishes, the better Chinese society will be able to understand how Pyongyang thinks, and how hard it is to solve this nuclear issue,” the concluding paragraph reads.
Another commentary published by Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday warns Japan that it would be “blanketed with radioactive clouds if a nuclear war occurs on the Korean peninsula.”
“Not only those who try to harm us but their supporters will not be safe if any war breaks out,” this op-ed stated, adding that it would be a “piece of cake” for North Korea’s military to devastate Japan.