China warns US against 'antagonizing' North Korea

A North Korean flag flies above the North Korean Embassy in Beijing.</p>

A North Korean flag flies above the North Korean Embassy in Beijing.

China cautioned the United States against beefing up its missile defense against North Korea in the wake of recent tension on the East Asian peninsula, and urged Washington leaders to act "prudently" as they moved to address the political issue.

"Bolstering missile defenses will only intensify antagonism, and it doesn't help to solve the issue," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei in Beijing, according to CNN.

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"China hopes the relevant country will proceed on the basis of peace and stability, adopt a responsible attitude and act prudently," added Lei, according to Reuters.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called North Korea's increasing nuclear belligerence "irresponsible and reckless provocations," and told CNN "the reason that we are doing what we are doing and the reason we are advancing our program here for homeland security is to not take any chances, is to stay ahead of the threat and to assure any contingency."

GlobalPost's senior correspondent in Seoul, Geoffrey Cain, has been reporting extensively on the build-up of tensions among South Korea, the North's capital Pyongyang, neighboring countries and the United States. 

"While there's been talk that China snarled at North Korea's nuclear test last month, this warning back at the US confirms that not much has changed in Beijing," says Cain. "The country is in a geopolitically awkward position, ensconced for a half-century by what it perceives to be a crescent of pro-American client states."

"Ultimately, China wants to preserve stability on the Korean Peninsula because, should any sort of escalation spur Pyongyang into action, Beijing is going to take the blunt end of any crisis," he says, adding a key example.

"Case in point: a stream of refugees have crossed the North Korean border since the 1990s. Rather than take them in as political refugees, the Chinese government sends them home because they're too much of a hassle, and to maintain a decent relationship with Pyongyang."

The Pentagon is planning to put $1 billion into an improved missile intercepting system aimed at stopping a North Korean attack before it reaches US shores, as North Korean nuclear technology continues to improve, in concert with increasing tension with both the US and its South Korean neighbors. 

North Korea's response to US missile defense plans was typically aggressive, as a foreign ministry spokesman claimed that nuclear weapons "serve as an all-powerful treasured sword for protecting the sovereignty and security of the country," according to CNN.

"Therefore, they cannot be disputed ... as long as the US nuclear threat and hostile policy persist," said the spokesman, who reiterated that North Korea wasn't interested in negotiating over nuclear defense.

"This is a dangerous ally for China to have, and the more Chinese can pressure them and put the economic screws on them, the better it will be for everybody," said Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass on CBS News of the China - North Korea relationship.

"We ought to make clear to everybody that the next Korean war, if one were ever to happen, is going to be the last Korean war. Because it's going to end with a unified peninsula and it's going to be under Seoul not Pyongyang. And that hopefully will make the North Korean leadership think twice."

Senior Correspondent Geoffrey Cain contributed from Seoul, South Korea. Follow him on Twitter @geoffrey_cain.

See video coverage by Al Jazeera English below: