North Korea nuclear crisis
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Donald Trump has warned Pyongyang to stop threatening American territory: Photo: Washington Post

China ‘should stay neutral if North Korea attacks US, but will stop Trump if he strikes first’

Nationalist tabloid linked to Communist Party urges Beijing to defend China’s interests as White House continues to escalate tensions

If North Korea launches an attack that threatens the United States then China should stay neutral, but if the United States attacks first and tries to overthrow North Korea’s government China will stop them, a Chinese state-run newspaper said on Friday.

President Donald Trump ratcheted up his rhetoric toward North Korea and its leader on Thursday, warning Pyongyang against attacking Guam or American allies after it disclosed plans to fire missiles over Japan to land near the US Pacific territory.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said urged the US and North Korea to be “cautious” with their words and actions after the two sides stepped up their bellicose rhetoric over Pyongyang’s weapons programme.

In a statement, Geng said the two nations should seek to “ease tensions”.

North Korea’s missile tests have been critcised by Beijing, but the editorial said China could not stop them. Photo: AP

China, North Korea’s most important ally and trading partner, has reiterated calls for calm during the current crisis. It has expressed frustration with both Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and missile tests and with behaviour from South Korea and the United States that it sees as escalating tensions.

The state-runtabloid Global Times, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, wrote in an editorial that Beijing was not able to persuade either Washington or Pyongyang to back down.

“It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them understand that when their actions jeopardise China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand,” said the paper, which does not represent government policy.

“China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral,” it added.

“If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”

US bombers on Guam, which has been the target of North Korean threats. Photo: EPA/Yonhap

China has long worried that any conflict on the Korean peninsula, or a repeat of the 1950-53 Korean war, could unleash a wave of destabilising refugees into its northeast, and could end up with a reunified county allied with the United States.

North Korea is a useful buffer state for China between it and US forces based in South Korea and also Japan.

The Global Times, which generally adopts a hawkish and nationalistic stance on foreign policy, said China will “firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China’s interests are concerned”.

“The Korean Peninsula is where the strategic interests of all sides converge, and no side should try to be the absolute dominator of the region.”