North Korea media warns China of `grave consequences`

  • As Russian, Turkish leaders reaffirm their pact on Syria

North Korean state media have issued a stinging denunciation of the country`s chief ally and diplomatic backer China, saying Beijing should be grateful for its protection.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) carried a bylined commentary warning of “grave consequences” if China tests its patience further.

Beijing and Pyongyang have a relationship forged in the blood of the Korean War, and the Asian giant remains its wayward neighbour`s main provider of aid and trade.

But ties have begun to fray in recent years, with China increasingly exasperated by the North`s nuclear antics, fearful of a regional crisis.

Beijing regularly calls for parties to avoid raising tensions — remarks that can apply to both Washington and Pyongyang — and in February it announced the suspension of coal imports from the North for the rest of the year, a crucial foreign currency earner for the authorities.

Chinese state-run media have called for harsher sanctions against the North in the event of a fresh atomic test, urged Pyongyang to “avoid making mistakes at this time”, and spoken of the need for it to abandon its nuclear programmes.

The KCNA commentary bylined “Kim Chol” — believed to be a pseudonym — denounced the “reckless remarks” and said nothing will shake Pyongyang`s determination.

“The DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear programme which is as precious as its own life,” it said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People`s Republic of Korea.

The commentary late Wednesday added that Pyongyang had acted as a buffer between Beijing and Washington since the Korean War in the 1950s, “contributed to protecting peace and security of China” and that its ally should “thank the DPRK for it”.

Beijing should not try to test the limits of the North`s patience, it said, warning: “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 text is a sign of the level to which ties between the two have deteriorated — North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has yet to visit Beijing, more than five years after taking power.

Washington is meanwhile pushing Beijing to put more pressure on Pyongyang.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week warned the UN Security Council of “catastrophic consequences” if the international community — most notably China — failed to pressure the North into abandoning its weapons programme.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi brushed aside Tillerson`s comments, saying that “the key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side”.

In the meantime, the leaders of Russia and Turkey on Wednesday publicly re-affirmed their commitment to working together to end the conflict in Syria, despite a gas attack on a Syrian city that tested their fragile alliance.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan, both subject to mounting criticism from Western governments over their rights records, have formed a pact on Syria despite backing rival sides in the civil conflict there.

They met on Wednesday in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, their first meeting since a deadly April 4 chemical attack on the Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun.

Erdogan at the time blamed the attack on Russia`s ally, the Syrian government, while Putin suggested the attack had been faked to discredit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking to reporters after their talks, Putin and Erdogan said they were still focused on working together to end the conflict in Syria, which has turned the country into a breeding ground for violent Islamist militant groups.

“We stand by our Russian friends in the fight against terror,” Erdogan said at a joint press conference, standing alongside Putin.

Both leaders said they would maintain their support for a stop-start peace process, based in the Kazakh city of Astana, in which Moscow, Ankara and Tehran are co-sponsors.

In the latest round of talks there, representatives of Syria`s armed opposition said they were suspending their participation.