A Chinese state-run newspaper called on Beijing on Friday to "stay neutral" if North Korea strikes first in a conflict with the United States, despite a mutual defence pact between the Asian allies.
The nationalistic Global Times tabloid said in an editorial that Washington and Pyongyang were playing a "reckless game" that could lead to "miscalculations and a strategic 'war'".
"Beijing is not able to persuade Washington or Pyongyang to back down at this time," the Global Times said.
"It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them understand that when their actions jeopardize China's interests, China will respond with a firm hand."
The commentary came after Washington warned North Korea this week it faced "fire and fury like the world has never seen" if it continued to threaten the US with its missile and nuclear programmes.
That prompted a defiant Pyongyang to threaten a missile attack on Guam, a tiny US territory in the Pacific that is home to major US air and naval facilities.
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