China is under pressure from the international community to support new sanctions against North Korea if Pyongyang follows through on its threat to carry out its third nuclear test.
Following North Korea's long-range rocket launch in December, China backed a new U.N. resolution (2087) that strengthened existing sanctions aimed at punishing Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons program.
The resolution, in part, urges U.N. members to monitor the activity of North Korean financial organizations within their countries. It also calls for travel bans on people suspected of involvement with the North's nuclear program.
So how will China react if North Korea carries out another nuclear test? The U.N. Security Council, of which China is a permanent member, is expected to respond quickly, possibly with new economic sanctions that expand asset freezes and travel bans on North Korean entities.
China will likely support such measures, according to Asia-related analysts and scholars interviewed by VOA such as Hong Kong senior media educator Zhou Bing.
"China can use a relatively soft punishment like freezing North Korea's bank accounts or canceling trade contracts," Zhou said. "However, China will still offer aid to North Korea. Because of humanitarian reasons and the long-time relations that have existed between the two, China still will offer food aid."
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that some North Korean companies and government-linked businesses are taking pre-emptive measures to avoid new Chinese financial sanctions.
Yonhap quoted a source in Beijing with knowledge of the issue as saying there are signs North Korean entities are withdrawing money from their Chinese bank accounts, or changing their company names in China.
A professor at China's Renmin University School of International Studies, Jin Canrong, told VOA that Sino-North Korean relations have deteriorated since Pyongyang's rocket launch in December, and that they could worsen further if the North carries out a nuclear test. He said Pyongyang's weak spot is the economy, and China's economic measures toward North Korea are very effective.
Soft economic sanctions
But an Asia analyst at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, James Schoff, told VOA that if China supports new sanctions, it will do so in a way that minimizes the economic impact on Pyongyang.
"The more desperate you make North Korea and the weaker they become economically, you’ve pretty much cut off any hope, chance for them coming around, at least from a Chinese perspective," Schoff said. "So they’ll do it I think more politically or try to soften some of the hard edges on economic sanctions, but there’s a limit to what they can do.”
China is North Korea's top ally and trading partner and supplies the impoverished country with crucial economic and humanitarian assistance. China also is seen as one of the few nations able to influence Pyongyang.
North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009 and has carried out long-range rocket launches.
The international community has condemned the rocket launches as disguised intercontinental ballistic missile tests. North Korea says it fired its rocket in December with the intention of putting a weather satellite into orbit.