Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) released a bylined editorial titled "Refrain from making reckless remarks undermining the DPRK-China relations" Wednesday night (Beijing time), slamming Chinese media by name for running articles North Korean officials felt constituted "a wanton violation of the independent and legitimate rights, dignity and supreme interests" of North Korea.
This is the third time in recent months the KCNA has published a bylined editorial critical of China. Unlike the first two pieces that did not mention China or any names of Chinese media outlets, this latest one did.
The KCNA piece defended North Korea's nuclear program. It also refuted Chinese media allegations over the threat of safety from nuclear tests being conducted in close proximity to northeastern China as having no scientific merit. The reasons given in the editorial include the previous five nuclear tests that have had no impact on North Koreans living close to the nuclear test site, and how the US has detected no radiation pollution, even with the most advanced tools.
The editorial also lashed out at whom it called "some ignorant politicians and media persons" in China over their views on how North Korean nuclear actions have "posed a threat" to the national interest of China. "It is just the DPRK whose strategic interests have been repeatedly violated due to insincerity and betrayal on the part of its partner, not China at all," it claimed.
The article went on to criticize how the diplomatic relationship between China and South Korea has turned northeastern China, and even China as a whole, into an anti-DPRK environment. The piece claimed that the northeast has become rife with South Koreans engaging in threatening activities such as kidnapping and terrorism against North Korea. The article was also critical of the time China invited then-South Korean president Park Geun-hye to attend the 2015 military parade at Tiananmen Square.
The KCNA editorial made it a point to stress how North Korea has been standing on the front lines of the war against the US for a long time. “China should acknowledge in an honest manner that the DPRK has just contributed to protecting peace and security of China, foiling the US scheme for aggression by waging a hard fight in the frontline of the showdown with the US for more than seven decades, and thank the DPRK for it," the editorial claimed.
The piece then concluded with, "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 KCNA opinion piece contains no new substantive information, except mentioning the names of China, People's Daily, and Global Times and expressing a stronger disgruntling. It did not mention China's support for the United Nations sanctions against North Korea. Nor did it state Pyongyang's next step to take. Overall, the editorial is nothing more than a hyper-aggressive piece completely filled with nationalistic passion.
Pyongyang obviously is grappling with some form of irrational logic over its nuclear program. Beijing does not need to engage in a tit-for-tat argument with Pyongyang. However, it should express its own opinions regardless of what Pyongyang has said.
Beijing needs to make China’s standing and position very clear to Pyongyang, either on an official or grassroots level. It needs to address with Pyongyang its concerns and bottom line. It should also make Pyongyang aware that it will react in unprecedented fashion if Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test. Beijing should not hesitate in delivering this message, and there is certainly no need to debate this issue back and forth with Pyongyang.
The differences and contradictions between China and North Korea will not be solved through any sort of argumentative effort. Beijing can see from the KCNA editorial that Pyongyang does not understand the real meaning of "national interest" when it comes to the big picture of Chinese diplomacy. Nor does it understand Beijing's deep concern for the potential risks posed by Pyongyang's nuclear tests to people living in northeastern China.
It is also evident from the KCNA editorial that Pyongyang's criticisms reveal the true feelings it has over its position as an isolated environment. It is mainly due to this last point that any attempt North Korea makes in voicing opinions and feelings through media outlets will have limited effect in helping the country understand outside opinions from the rest of the world regarding its nuclear program.
Beijing and Pyongyang need to pursue higher levels of dialogue with one another. It is only through such efforts that Pyongyang can be pulled out of the blind ally it insists on remaining in, especially when the country considers nuclear weapons "as precious as its own life," as it put in the article.
It really does not matter that much when Pyongyang publicly voices its criticisms of Beijing. What really matters is what will Pyongyang's next move be. As of right now, Pyongyang has not conducted its sixth nuclear test. It was also comparatively restrained when it launched intercontinental ballistic missiles in April.
In this current situation, uncertainties loom over the positions of North Korea and the US. Beijing needs to be fully aware of what those positions are, and then seek to help both parties resolve this ongoing security dilemma. China's proposed "double suspension” seeks to assist in US efforts to get the related parties back to the negotiation table.
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.