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‘Lips and teeth’ no more

May 05,2017
The friction between Pyongyang and Beijing over China’s mounting pressure on North Korea to ease off on its nuclear weapons program is taking an alarming turn. The North’s state mouthpiece the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) attacked China on Wednesday in an unprecedentedly strong tone. KCNA denounced China for damaging “our strategic interests” through an act of distrust and betrayal after the Xi Jinping government continues to pressure North Korea after Xi’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida in April.

North Korea went so far as to claim that it is China, not North Korea, which has crossed a “red line” in relations. Previously Pyongyang refrained from directly naming China even when it was obviously criticizing Beijing. This time, however, it not only named China but also used a taboo word: betrayal.

China reacted to the North’s condemnation as resolutely as possible. The Global Times, one of the most belligerent official mouthpieces, lashed back at North Korea for threatening China’s security by raising the risk of a military clash on the Korean Peninsula through its unabated pursuit of nuclear weapons.

China’s attack is no mere bluff. The Chinese authorities are known to have increased inspections on all China’s exports to the North. Previously they did random checks. That’s a move to fully comply with sanctions on trade with North Korea.

Given the two sides’ unprecedented exchange of flak, it is almost certain that relations between Pyongyang and Beijing have deteriorated since the Trump-Xi summit. That’s clear evidence of China reinforcing sanctions on the North.

For our part, the government must do its best so as not to break the pace of joint sanctions on North Korea. Whoever wins the May 9 presidential election must keep in mind that this is the time to augment pressure on the North in order to bring it to the negotiating table
But there is a likelihood that North Korea will attempt to improve relations with Russia as a result of its fraying ties with China, a move to break out of diplomatic isolation. In that case, Russia could try to play the role of sponsor to North Korea after President Vladimir Putin’s relations with Trump turned sour after the U.S. bombing last month of a Syrian airbase. When that happens, North Korea could easily find an ally after being pushed into a corner. Our government must keep a close watch on all developments and prepare for such a dangerous turn of events.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 5, Page 26