Beijing: Accusing North Korea, China`s closest ally of pursuing a policy of a "hostage taker" by resorting to nuclear tests, a state-run Chinese daily today said Pyongyang`s nuclear weapons put neighbours at risk and called for stern punishment if it hurt Beijing`s interests.
In a hard hitting editorial, the Chinese Communist Party-run Global Times said "North Korea is too small to control the strategic risk of owning nuclear weapons. The new arms only put neighbouring countries at greater risk and anxiety".
Referring to the concerns of radiation in China as North Korea`s third nuclear test was conducted about 100 km from the Chinese border, the daily said though there is no trace of higher levels of radiation at the borders, China should demand that "North Korea ensures there is no pollution of Chinese soil or air".
"This is a red line for North Korea. It is also a guarantee the Chinese government must provide for its own people. If this line is crossed, the Korean Peninsula crisis will turn into China`s crisis," it said.
"North Korea should not turn itself into a hostage taker, who appears to be safe for now, but is actually the most vulnerable of all in the tricky situation".
The editorial came in the midst of reports that Pyongyang has informed Beijing that it planned to carry out more tests.
"China does need to give a stern warning or even punishment to North Korea if it hurts China`s interests. But the warning should be one that informs a strategic friend about China`s bottom line. China cannot join the camp of the US, South Korea and Japan, by making North Korea China`s enemy", the editorial said.
This is the second such editorial by the daily this month criticising North Korea.
The harsh language raised speculation that the two allies are drifting apart and China is getting increasingly concerned that North Korean nuclear weapons could pose a threat to it too besides US, South Korea and Japan.
It said North Korea is gambling more with each successive nuclear test.
"North Korea has been pursuing an independent diplomatic route for a long time. After the Korean War in the early 1950s, China took a step back, no longer involving itself too deeply in Korean affairs," it said adding that China`s leverage has become limited as Beijing improved ties with US and South Korea.
"All these have resulted in China`s limited leverage over North Korea. The Chinese public needs to change its mindset that China is a big brother to North Korea and always has the final say," it said.
China will adhere to its pursuit of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula while maintaining its special relationship with North Korea, it said.