By Ramya Kannan
Passive disagreements between China and North Korea over the latter’s military actions has instigated a rare response from a North Korean news body. Pyongyang’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) stated that recent commentaries carried by the Chinese media on possible actions against North Korea could impair relations between the two countries.
The commentary addresses these media bodies as mouthpieces of the Chinese government and warned its only friendly neighbor and ally of “grave consequences”. This comes in the backdrop of an ongoing altercation between the United States and North Korea in which China has been acting as an intermediary. Due to its need to maintain friendly relations with both countries, China has faced criticism over its actions, or lack thereof, from both sides.
Conveyed in press
Articles, editorials and commentaries in Chinese media, all of which are state-run, have urged the government to impose stricter measures on North Korea, in response to a series of latest missile launches. Though most of these ballistic missile launches failed, they pose a threat to the security of the region and to the United States, which has been pushing China to undertake severe action against its ally. While China has so far agreed to these calls, the criticism by KCNA has compelled it to assert that it is keen to maintain friendly relations with North Korea.
KCNA accused China of undermining the independence and interests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and “dancing to the tune of the U.S.” in an attempt to avoid a war which poses a threat to China. It reinforced that China failed to acknowledge North Korea’s importance as a buffer state to control US’s intervention in the region. Finally, the commentary declared North Korea’s willingness to compromise the relations by saying that the country “will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China”.
This is not the first critical commentary by the North Korean news agency. However, the ones in the past did not refer to China by its name. It is of significance that neither of the countries has publicly addressed its disagreements with the other before; therefore, these direct accusations could be an indication of worsening relations.
Making new friends?
Following China’s acceptance of the UN sanction and its subsequent refusal to import coal from the country, it is possible that North Korea has realised the need to reduce its economic dependence on its only major ally. Analysts in South Korea believe that the recent meeting between the North Korean Vice Foreign Minister and the Russian ambassador could be a hint at strengthening ties. Moreover, the possibility of a moderate government in South Korea makes better relations between the two countries imminent, thereby threatening China’s position as the only North Korean ally.
China’s concern regarding possible unilateral action by President Trump and military exercises between the US and South Korea is apparent, but it has reinforced its commitment to a denuclearised Korean peninsula. However, it is evident that the Xi government is unwilling to spoil its relations with North Korea, even though the leaders of the two governments have never met. China seems to be stuck in an unenviable situation, where dialogue is the only way forward.
As stated by former Indian diplomat Rakesh Sood, it is unlikely that North Korea will stop its nuclear and military expansion. According to him, the best alternative is to convince Mr. Jong-un to freeze his programmes, but this is possible only if new sanctions and military action by the Trump government are out of the picture. Moreover, the U.S. will have to express acceptance of the current regime and display its commitment to normalise relations.