BEIJING (AP) - China expressed its "firm opposition" to North Korea's latest nuclear test Tuesday and called for new denuclearization talks, a relatively mild response from Pyongyang's most important ally.
The statement from the Foreign Ministry reflects Beijing's growing frustration with its communist neighbor's provocative behavior, as well as its reluctance to impose more severe measures that could destabilize the North's hardline regime.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, heedless of widespread international opposition, has again carried out a nuclear test, to which the Chinese government expresses its firm opposition," the statement said, referring to North Korea by its official name.
The statement said China maintained its resolute stance of advocating a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, opposition to nuclear proliferation, and support for the maintenance of stability on the peninsula. It called on North Korea to abide by its denuclearization pledge, and not to "take additional actions that could cause the situation to further deteriorate."
The statement did not point to any specific actions Beijing would take in response to the nuclear test, the North's third. But it called on all sides to "respond calmly" and said issues should be resolved within the framework of long-stalled denuclearization talks involving North Korea, China, the U.S., South Korea, Japan and Russia.
China is the North's biggest source of aid and diplomatic support, but it issued an unusually strong reaction to Pyongyang's December rocket launch by agreeing to tightened United Nations sanctions on the country.
Tuesday's statement, however, was almost word-for-word identical to China's responses to previous North Korean nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
China had repeatedly called on the North not to conduct a test, and Pyongyang's decision to proceed anyway will likely strengthen Beijing's arguments that it has little power to influence its neighbor and that harsh actions against the regime will only have a negative effect.
Although Beijing hasn't proposed any concrete plans to punish the North, disgust with Pyongyang's defiance and lack of gratitude is growing in. Tuesday was a public holiday in China, but the nuclear test was widely criticized on the country's popular Twitter-like Weibo microblogging service, with users calling it inhuman and anti-social and urging the government to reconsider its assistance to the regime.
Many found the test especially offensive because it took place less than 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the Chinese border and came on the third day of the Lunar New Year, when most work stops for family gatherings.