Seoul takes heed of N.K.’s ‘rare’ direct criticism of China

May 4, 2017

SEOUL/BEIJING, May 4 (Yonhap) — South Korea’s unification ministry said Thursday that it was rare for North Korea to directly criticize China, one day after Pyongyang claimed that Beijing is undermining their ties by implementing sanctions.

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North Korea’s state media said in a commentary issued in the name of Kim Chol on Wednesday that China has crossed the red line of their bilateral ties by pushing for tougher sanctions, saying that Pyongyang will never beg for Beijing’s friendship.

The Ministry of Unification said that the North made a “rare” direct condemnation of China, given that previously Pyongyang used the term “a neighboring country” when criticizing Beijing.

“North Korea seemed to show a strong reaction as China has joined other nations’ move to send a message against its nuclear and missile provocations,” said a ministry official, asking not to be named. “Pyongyang needs to pay attention to this message.”

The official also added that North Korea appeared to adjust its level of criticism by using what appears to be the pen name of Kim Chol.

China’s foreign ministry brushed aside Pyongyang’s denouncement, reaffirming its unwavering position toward the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and its friendly ties with the North.

“China’s position on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue is consistent and clear and its stance on the friendly North Korea-China relationship is also coherent and unequivocal,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a press briefing upon being asked about the North Korean commentary.

“For a long time, China has judged and dealt with the concerned issues according to whether they are right or wrong in a way that’s objective and fair,” the spokesman noted.

“China is adamantly focused on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and keeping the peace and stability on the peninsula as well as dialogue and negotiations as means of solving the issues,” the spokesman also said. All concerned countries should take their responsibility and play their role in that vein, he said.

China is North Korea’s key economic benefactor and treaty ally, but their ties have been frayed following North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.

In February, North Korea condemned China over its decision to halt imports of North Korean coal, saying that Beijing is “dancing to the tune of the U.S.,” referring to China’s implementation of the U.N. sanctions.

At that time, the KCNA said that a neighboring country that often claims itself to be a “friendly neighbor” is showing an unkind attitude toward North Korea, apparently referring to China.

China has sought a dual-track approach toward North Korea’s problems, saying that peace treaty talks between the North and the U.S. should be proceeded in tandem with negotiations on denuclearization.

North Korea on Wednesday reiterated its stance of sticking to nuclear weapons development, a slap in the face for China.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg News on Monday that he would “absolutely” be willing and “honored” to meet with the North’s leader Kim if such a meeting takes place “under the right circumstances.”

Pyongyang fired a missile last week, but it seems to refrain from conducting another nuclear test or launching an intercontinental ballistic missile, an act that would be certain to anger the U.S.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, said that North Korea showed strong complaints over China’s cooperation with the U.S. in employing sanctions against the North.

“North Korea is expected to try to strengthen its ties with Russia while seeking to intentionally ignore China. If a new administration takes office in South Korea, Pyongyang is likely to aggressively make a peace offensive toward the South,” he added.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr

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