China says it remains firmly opposed to North Korea's recent nuclear tests, but a Chinese official is offering no support any new United Nations sanctions against Pyongyang.  

China is one of North Korea's best remaining friends in the world.  However, Pyongyang is increasingly putting Beijing in a difficult position.

China's state-run media these days are running stories bluntly criticizing North Korea.  

Tuesday's English edition of the Global Times newspaper quotes Chinese North Korea analyst, Zhang Lianggui, as saying the catastrophe of a mishandled North Korean nuclear test is "an unprecedented threat" to China.

Monday, the paper quoted Tsinghua University professor Sun Zhe as saying North Korea's nuclear test has apparently spoiled the traditional bonds between the two countries, saying Pyongyang no longer follows Beijing.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council continues to debate how to respond to North Korea's nuclear test, more than one week ago.

In Beijing Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang repeatedly told reporters that China and North Korea have, in his words, "normal state-to-state relations."

Qin says China and North Korea are close neighbors.  At the same time, he says the Chinese government is concerned with developments on the Korean peninsula.  He stressed that China has always been, in his words, "devoted to safeguarding peace and stability" in the region.

Qin says Beijing has taken note of recent reports of a dispute between South and North Korea about Seoul's decision to join the Proliferation Security Initiative.  The multinational, U.S.-led military exercises are aimed at stopping the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction.  Pyongyang responded by saying it would consider any search of its ships to be an act of war.

The Chinese spokesman says China understands the concerns of PSI participants and agrees with the PSI's goal of non-proliferation.

At the same time, Qin says China is concerned that the PSI could take actions that go beyond international law, although he gave no details.

When asked to comment on reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has named a successor, the Chinese spokesman answered with one word "Really?"

He did not directly confirm reports that China has cut off exchanges with North Korea.  But he says the vice chairman of China's legislature, Chen Zhili, had to postpone her visit to North Korea because of scheduling issues.  The trip had been planned for early June.