Monitor group 38 North warns North Korea is ready to conduct another nuclear weapons test

NORTH Korean and Chinese media were at loggerheads after Pyongyang’s official news agency issued a rare and stinging denunciation of its chief ally and diplomatic backer.

Beijing should be grateful to Pyongyang for its protection, said a bylined commentary carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), warning of “grave consequences” if China tests its patience further.

China’s Global Times newspaper retorted that the nuclear-armed North was in the grip of “some form of irrational logic” over its weapons programs.

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 and fearful of a regional crisis. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has yet to visit Beijing, more than five years after taking power.

The rival texts are a sign of the level to which ties between the two have deteriorated. KCNA regularly carries vivid denunciations of the US, Japan, and the South Korean authorities, but it is rare for it to turn its ire on China.

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”, and spoken of the need for it to abandon its nuclear programmes.

The KCNA commentary denounced the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist party, and the Global Times, which sometimes reflects the thinking of the leadership, as having “raised lame excuses for the base acts of dancing to the tune of the US”.

Chinese suggestions that the North give up its weapons crossed a “red line” and were “ego-driven theory based on big-power chauvinism” said the article, bylined “Kim Chol” — believed to be a pseudonym.

“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.

Pyongyang had acted as a buffer between Beijing and Washington since the Korean War in the 1950s and “contributed to protecting peace and security of China”, it said, adding 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.”

’NATIONALISTIC’ PASSION

In its response Thursday, the Global Times — which can sometimes stridently espouse what it sees as China’s interests — dismissed the KCNA article as “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 programme,” it added.

Beijing “should also make Pyongyang aware that it will react in unprecedented fashion if Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test”, it said.

“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,” the Global Times said.

Washington is meanwhile pushing Beijing — which says its influence is less than believed — 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”.

CHINA: GET OUT OF N KOREA

CHINA has called for all of its citizens to return from North Korea immediately as a US citizen is detained for allegedly trying to overthrow the country’s regime.

The Korea Times reports that the Chinese embassy in North Korea began advising Korean-Chinese residents to return to China.

A Korean-Chinese citizen told Radio Free Asia he was advised to ‘stay a while’ in China, and stated: ‘The embassy has never given such a warning. I was worried and left the country in a hurry.’

But he said most Chinese citizens in North Korea had opted not to heed the warning.

It comes as North Korea confirmed the detention of another American citizen for alleged acts of hostility aimed at overthrowing the country.

Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang Duk, was detained for hostile acts to North Korea. Picture: FacebookSource:Supplied

Kim Sang Dok, or Tony Kim, an accounting instructor at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, was “intercepted” at Pyongyang International Airport on April 22, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

It said he was being detained while authorities conduct a detailed investigation into his alleged crime.

The school’s chancellor Park Chan-mo and the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang earlier gave the information about Mr Kim’s detention but couldn’t provide the reason for his arrest.

He is now the third American being detained in North Korea.

The other US detainees are Otto Warmbier, serving a 15-year prison term with hard labour for alleged anti-state acts, and Kim Dong Chul, serving a 10-year term with hard labour for alleged espionage.

IMAGES SHOW RESUMPTION AT NUCLEAR SITE

Meanwhile satellite images indicate activity has resumed at North Korea’s nuclear test site, US-based analysts said Tuesday, as tensions remain high over fears of an sixth atomic test by the reclusive state.

Images of the Punggye-ri site captured on April 25 appear to show workers pumping out water at a tunnel believed to have been prepared for an upcoming nuclear test, monitoring group 38 North said.

It also noted that a large number of personnel were seen throughout the facility, with some groups possibly playing volleyball, in what is very likely a propaganda scene.

Activity resumes at North Korea’s nuclear site. Picture: 38 NorthSource:Supplied

 

Satelitte image showing movement at North Korean nuclear site. Picture: 38 NorthSource:Supplied

“It is unclear if this activity indicates that a nuclear test has been cancelled, the facility is in standby mode or that a test is imminent,” said the researchers from the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Workers were also observed playing volleyball at the guard barracks and two other areas at the site in satellite pictures taken on April 19 and 21.

38 North said the latest images were “unusual and almost assuredly a component of an overall North Korean deception and propaganda effort” and the result of media reporting on the earlier volleyball sightings.

North Korea is on a mission to develop a long-range missile capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead, and has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year.

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Punggye-ri is a complex of tunnels and testing infrastructure in the mountains in the northeast of the country.

38 North said last month that Punggye-ri was “primed and ready” to conduct a test, amid mounting speculation that Pyongyang would act to coincide with major anniversaries including the birthday of regime founder Kim Il-sung.

A nuclear test has yet to happen, but North Korea’s failed ballistic missile launch last week marked the hermit state’s latest show of defiance.

On Monday it said it would carry out a nuclear test “at any time and at any location” set by its leadership.

US President Donald Trump said this week he would be “honoured” to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under the right conditions, dialling down earlier threats of military action.

Washington is now exploring options at the UN Security Council to ramp up pressure on the North, with diplomats saying it was in discussion with China on possible sanctions.

Over the past 11 years, the Security Council has imposed six sets of sanctions on Pyongyang, including imposing a cap on coal exports among other measures in November.