Beijing would cut aid for North Korea if Pyongyang conducts a nuclear test or test-fires a long-range missile, China's official Global Times reported Friday.
It is rare for China's state media to mention cutbacks on aid for Beijing's traditional ally.
China has given North Korea 100,000 to 200,000 tons of food aid and 500,000 tons of oil every year to keep the impoverished state afloat.
The newspaper, an English-language sister publication of the People's Daily, expressed Beijing's growing exasperation with its renegade ally. "Just let North Korea be 'angry,'" it said in an editorial, referring to irate statements from Pyongyang after the latest UN sanctions. "If North Korea engages in further nuclear tests, China will not hesitate to reduce its assistance to North Korea."
The daily compared the situation on the Korean Peninsula to a boulder perched precariously atop a steep hill, and warned that disaster will happen if it falls.
China's leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping has not laid out his North Korea policies in detail, but hints here and there suggest that he is willing to add a little cautious stick to the carrots of diplomatic engagement and aid to the North.
But a diplomatic source in Beijing said, "There is not much chance that the new Chinese leadership will put more emphasis on pushing North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons than on maintaining the regime."
China's present North Korea policy was set out by President Hu Jintao in July of 2009, just after the North's second nuclear test. At that time, there was debate whether North Korea was an asset or a threat to China's strategic interests. It reached a conclusion that is encapsulated in the three principles of preventing war, preventing chaos and denuclearization.
Beijing clearly put more emphasis on preventing war and maintaining stability in the North than on denuclearization. When Xi officially becomes China's leader in March, he is unlikely to depart massively from the principles.
The Global Times therefore also stressed that China would have blocked any efforts by South Korea, the U.S. and Japan to get the UN Security Council to take more drastic measures against the North.