WASHINGTON — North Korea this week renewed its recent series of threats, saying there would be "immediate counteractions" should anything go awry with a series of joint military drills between the United States and South Korea. Much of Pyongyang's fiery rhetoric, however, has softened in recent weeks.
Warnings like that on North Korean state-run television seem more muted lately, and are coming less frequently.
Photos show North Korean leader Kim Jong Un talking with workers, not soldiers, at construction sites.
Possibly most telling, U.S. officials say two of Pyongyang's mid-range missiles recently were removed from imminent-launch status.
Still, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying remains cautious.
"Current situation on the Korean peninsula is still highly complicated and sensitive. We hope that relevant parties can take actions that will help ease tension and bring peace and stability on the peninsula,'' said Hua.
But China itself may now be trying to wield more influence over Pyongyang, announcing the state-run Bank of China has closed key accounts with North Korea's main foreign exchange bank.
Scott Snyder, with the Council on Foreign Relations, said, "It is in my view a tactical adjustment whereby the Chinese are trying to signal to the North Koreans, as much as to anybody, that China's willing to get tough."
China's public rebuke was its first since North Korea set off a nuclear test in March, incurring a new round of sanctions.
What is unclear is just how much China is willing to push North Korea to get in line, and to what extent China is willing to align its aims with those of the United States.
China analyst Bonnie Glaser said it bears watching. "There is a greater opportunity than we have seen in the past to have a unified series of steps," she said.
Glaser said China is clearly growing impatient with what it sees as saber-rattling from young North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, though many in Beijing remain sympathetic to North Korea.
"I don't know that China has a long-term strategy about what it will do in cooperation with other nations or by itself if Kim Jong Un continues down this path," said Glaser.
With all the assistance China provides North Korea, there remain plenty of opportunities for more leverage to be applied should Beijing decide it is time to do that.