Kim Jong Un
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reacts with scientists and technicians of the country's Academy of Defence Science after the test-launch of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang July 5, 2017. Reuters/KCNA

Amid growing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, Washington on Wednesday indirectly took an aim at China for continuing trade relations with the reclusive country. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington would limit trade relations with the countries that keep supporting Pyongyang.

“Make no mistake. North Korea’s launch of an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] is a clear and sharp military escalation,” Haley said during an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council. “One of our [the U.S.] capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must. But we prefer not to have to go in that direction.”

Read: China Suspends Fuel Sales To North Korea Amid Tense Times

Haley said the U.S. will also restrict trade with countries that "do not take international security threats seriously."

"There are countries that are allowing, even encouraging trade with North Korea, in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Such countries would also like to continue their trade arrangements with the United States. That’s not gonna happen," Haley said.

President Donald Trump has also expressed frustration on several occasions over Beijing’s support to Pyongyang. Earlier on Wednesday, he questioned why the U.S. should continue trade deals with "countries that do not help us" and went on to tweet that trade between China and North Korea grew "almost 40 percent in the first quarter."

Despite the warnings from the U.S. and North Korea’s growing nuclear ambitions, why does China still continue to be the latter’s ally?

Apart from their shared revolutionary history, one of the reasons why China continues to maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea was their joint struggle against the U.S. during the Korean War in the 1950s.

Writing in the Independent last February, Mark Beeson, professor of International Politics at Australia's Murdoch University, stated, "About 250,000 North Koreans and 100,000 Chinese died in the war, which likely led to strong relations between the two nations."

Speaking to Newsweek in April, Arthur Dong, professor at Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, said China considers North Korea as a buffer zone from potential encroachment by powers that are all aligned with the United States.

"That ring fence that’s sort of been built in the post-World War II period with American allies, starting with South Korea, then on Japan, then on to Taiwan and certainly places like Okinawa and the Philippines,” Dong said.

He said China sees this ring as a potential military threat, and this continues to support its allies no matter how unsavory those allies are with the North Korean regime.

According to Dong, it is important for China not to fall behind the U.S. even though the situation demands defending a regime known to violate human rights.

“China wants to reclaim its status as sort of the predominant power in east Asia, and in order to create that sort of perception they have to stand up for any ally in the region,” Dong reportedly said.

Read: US Challenges China On North Korea Nuclear Threat Amid Unsanctioned Missile Launches

For years, Beijing has played a role of negotiator between Washington and Pyongyang and always urged both parties to come to a solution in a peaceful way. The U.S. has sought China to put economic pressure on the Kim Jong Un-led country so that it can curb its pursuit of long-range nuclear weapons.

“China’s foreign policy is dedicated to re-establishing what its people see as its rightful place at the center of regional affairs. The disappearance of North Korea might not advance this project and illustrate the US’s continuing ability to contain China’s ambitions,” Beeson wrote in the Independent.