An editorial in a prominent semi-official Chinese newspaper is urging China's government to take a tough stance against North Korea if Pyongyang follows through on its threat to conduct a third nuclear test.
The editorial Wednesday in the Global Times says North Korea must pay a "heavy price" if it conducts the test. The column says China's government should make clear in advance that the aid it sends to Pyongyang will be reduced.
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.
Last month, North Korea vowed to soon conduct a "high-level" nuclear test after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution tightening sanctions against the communist state. The 15-member body was responding to a December long-range rocket launch that North Korea was banned from conducting under prior U.N. sanctions.
China backed the resolution after saying any U.N. response to the rocket launch should be "prudent and moderate." The resolution expands asset freezes and travel bans on some North Korean entities.
An Asia analyst at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, James Schoff, said. that by responding harshly to another nuclear test, China may be trying to show it is unified with the West in opposing such actions by Pyongyang.
He said the U.S. and other members of the international community have been influential in pressuring China to be tougher on North Korea, but that in the end Beijing will do what is best for Beijing.
"China’s government will make decisions based on its own perceptions of its interests, Schoff said. "But clearly this next nuclear test, coming on the heels of the rocket launch which was pretty successful, the expectations are that this could be a fairly large nuclear test and if that’s the case the combination will be seen as a real kind of watershed moment, a turning point in this slow evolution of North Korea becoming a nuclear state, a nuclear weapons state in its own mind."
Kerry Talks with China
Earlier this week, the new U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry, talked with China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi about North Korea facing "further" sanctions under the latest U.N. resolution, if it carries out another nuclear test.
Schoff said if China supports new sanctions, it will want to 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," he 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.”
North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.
The international community has condemned North Korea's long-range rocket launches as disguised intercontinental ballistic missile tests. Pyongyang says it fired its rocket in December with the intention of putting a weather satellite into orbit.