North Korea's state-run news agency issued a tough critique of China on Thursday, suggesting Beijing's criticism of the North's recent missile test and suspension of imports of North Korean coal are tantamount to the actions of an enemy state "dancing to the tune of the U.S."
The article took a tone normally reserved for North Korea's overt enemies — Washington, Tokyo and Seoul.
Without directly using China's name, but referring to it as "a neighboring country, which often claims itself to be a 'friendly neighbor,'" the Korean Central News Agency report accused Beijing of essentially abandoning North Korea in favor of the United States by cutting off imports of coal in compliance with United Nations sanctions.
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"This country, styling itself a big power, is dancing to the tune of the U.S. while defending its mean behavior with such excuses that it (the suspension of coal imports) was meant not to have a negative impact on the living of the people in the DPRK but to check its nuclear program," it said. DPRK is short for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
It added that China has "unhesitatingly taken inhumane steps" to comply with U.N. sanctions.
The article, uncharacteristically for the news agency, carried a byline, Jong Phil.
China on Sunday began a suspension of all coal imports from North Korea for the rest of the year as it increases pressure on it in line with U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed in November in response to the North's fifth nuclear test two months earlier.
China had already banned coal imports from North Korea in April last year, but those restrictions allowed some imports for civilian use. China is North Korea's largest source of trade and aid and the suspension will deprive the North of an important source of foreign currency.
North Korean coal exports to China totaled $1.2 billion last year, according to Chinese customs statistics. U.S. officials say that represents about one third of North Korea's total export income.
Beijing has come under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to lean harder on North Korea, but says its influence is limited.
It has, however, also grown increasingly frustrated with North Korea's defiance of U.N. demands it end missile tests and development of nuclear weapons.