North Korean state media is never shy about telling the U.S. to get bent, but the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) seldom turns its ire to China, Pyongyang’s strongest and most important ally.
On Wednesday, however, the KCNA appeared to have had enough and fired back at China after a Beijing official told both the U.S. and North Korea, along with Japan and South Korea, to “stop irritating each other.”
North Korea’s response was a metaphorical middle finger. “China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of” North Korea-China relations, a KCNA statement read, according to Reuters. “A string of absurd and reckless remarks are now heard from China every day only to render the present bad situation tenser.”
The statement went on to blame “some ignorant politicians and media persons” in China for unfairly calling on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear-weapons program. That call, the statement said, was “an undisguised threat to an honest-minded neighboring country which has a long history and tradition of friendship.”
“The DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China,” the statement said, using the acronym for Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Pyongyang’s surprisingly stern response to China’s finger-wagging shows the potential flaw in Trump’s plan to rely on China to solve the North Korea problem. As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday, the U.S. is “leaning hard into China to test their willingness to use their influence.” He added: “It’s a pressure campaign that has a knob on it, I’d say we’re at dial seven or six right now.”
So far, that approach appears to have only caused Kim Jong-un to further dig in his heels. As Vox’s Jennifer Williams notes, “North Korea’s leaders are ferociously nationalistic and really don’t like being pushed around.”
That fierce independence is the defining feature of North Korea’s official state ideology, known as “juche.” Translated as “self-reliance,” juche stresses total independence in all facets of national life, from foreign policy to economics to national defense.
It’s almost as if this issue is “not so easy.”