News / Asia

    Views Mixed on China's Response to N. Korea Nuclear Test

    FILE - A paramilitary soldier stands guard at the main gate of North Korea's embassy in Beijing Jan. 6, 2016.
    FILE - A paramilitary soldier stands guard at the main gate of North Korea's embassy in Beijing Jan. 6, 2016.
    Ham Jiha

    North Korea has often blamed the "hostile policy" of the United States for its development of nuclear weapons.

    When the communist country announced a purported test of a hydrogen bomb Wednesday, it said the test was a "measure of defense" against the U.S.

    Analysts, however, say the test might be a show of Pyongyang's dissatisfaction with Beijing, a reflection of deteriorating ties between the two allies.

    In a rare move, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs publicly criticized the North Korean action, saying Beijing "firmly opposes" Pyongyang's suspected nuclear test. Spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters her country had not been given warning of the test.

    Beijing snub

    Bilateral ties between the neighboring countries have cooled since late 2011, when Kim Jong Un took power. Relations deteriorated further in 2013, when Pyongyang proceeded with its third nuclear test despite Beijing's repeated warnings.

    FILE - The TV news shows footage of North Korea's nuclear test on Feb. 12, 2013.
    FILE - The TV news shows footage of North Korea's nuclear test on Feb. 12, 2013.

    Analysts say the latest test has angered Chinese leaders and could lead to Beijing's participation in international efforts to impose fresh sanctions on Pyongyang. Beijing's participation is viewed as a key component of international sanctions on Pyongyang.

    Richard Bush, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Beijing might take a tougher stance on Pyongyang this time.

    "My guess is that China will intensify its support for what the international community has already done," Bush said.

    He said there is still room for additional financial sanctions on Pyongyang, adding that Beijing "could do more" in tightening the penalties.

    Douglas Paal, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said the test came as Beijing was trying to mend ties with Pyongyang and the Chinese would take the North Korean action as counterproductive.

    "Judging from what I have heard from the Chinese over the last few months, this would be surprising and irritating to them," Paal said.

    He also said Beijing could take stronger actions to send a message to Pyongyang.

    The test site was close to the Chinese border and the Chinese must have realized the potential danger, said Bruce Bennett, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation.

    "If North Korea really were to explode an H-bomb at the Punggye-ri nuclear facility, that is so close to the Chinese border that it would cause serious damages more than likely in China," Bennett said.

    Beijing's dilemma

    Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said he expects that Beijing's actions would be limited, despite the current troubled relationship between Beijing and Pyongyang. China appears to be afraid of the destabilization of the North Korean regime, which could slide into chaos on the Chinese border.

    "They are trying to find a path that sends a message to North Korea, but doesn't push them to the point where they have to worry about a collapse of their regime," Manning said.  

    Manning added that over the past few years, the Chinese appeared to be leaning toward a sense that their ally is more of a liability than an asset.

    Gordon Chang, an author and columnist who writes extensively on China, said there appears to be little consensus in the Chinese leadership about whether it should change its policy on North Korea at this point.

    "In Beijing, there are a lot of people who do want to change the Chinese foreign policy with regard to North Korea to take a tougher stance against Kim Jong Un, but there is no consensus to do so," Chang said.

    On Friday, Beijing rejected Washington's criticism that its policies toward Pyongyang had failed.

    "The origin and crux of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula has never been China," Hua said, in an apparent reference to comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

    On Thursday, Kerry told reporters that Beijing's approach to Pyongyang "has not worked, and we cannot continue business as usual."

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    Comment Sorting
    by: NoXungThien
    January 16, 2016 10:12 AM
    Chinese Gov. Is on the way to realize North Korea is a liability more than asset to it, since South Korea is now making more trades & heavily investing into the lucrative Chinese market, this is fact. Sooner or later, the benefits will overcome the outdated strategies dealing with the West, plus the brutalities of Kim's clan to North Korean is making any country to think twice when dealing with both Chinese & North Korean regimes.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 10, 2016 10:28 PM
    Japan and South Korea could apply pressure on China by announcing that unless North Korea abandons its nuclear arms program and allows free unfettered inspection by a date certain, they will start to build nuclear weapons arsenals of their own as a counter measure. The strategy of trying to reduce tensions has not worked. Perhaps the opposite strategy of ramping tensions up would be more successful. The last thing anyone in Asia wants to see is Japan with an arsenal of nuclear weapons. That would send a message of fear and anger throughout the region.

    by: American Eskimo from: San Jose, USA
    January 10, 2016 12:25 PM
    Mr. Robert Manning's assessment is RIHGT ON 100%.
    Mr. Gordon Chan is just shooting his month off this time and often in the past, like predicting China falling apart so many times. He shall ride off into the sunset. He is a China basher paid by outside force.
    Mr. John Kerry shall refrain from agitating conflict between China and North Korea. Why does he say "Beijing's approach has not worked and WE (who are WE?) cannot continue business as usual."
    Between the lesser of 2 evils, (1) to have a buffer between USA and China or (2) to have a unified Korea with trouble right across the Yule river. The choice is clear as MUD for China. Business as usual is a sound approach for China to take, so Mr. Kerry, stuff it.

    by: Moses608 from: Kenya
    January 10, 2016 7:49 AM
    China's silence is a danger to itself.North Korea would one day use this arsenal against China.Who knows these unchecked nuclear tests by mindless hounds who rule North Korea will ignite a super Volcano and the whole world will suffer.

    by: Alice from: Canada
    January 09, 2016 8:16 PM
    The Chinese government has decided it prefers to look the other way and not antagonize the lunatics that run North Korea. Strange that China is willing to build artificial islands to access oil resources the world does not require yet this same China wont do anything about an irrational North Korean regime that may turn on China at any moment. Has Communist China lost its nerve?

    by: meanbill from: USA
    January 09, 2016 3:35 PM
    China doesn't have to worry about North Korea attacking them, nor do they worry that North Korea has any nuclear missiles aimed at them, but they do have to worry that any nuclear war on the Korean peninsula would effect their trade and economic growth, but trying to get North Korea to give up it's defensive nuclear weapons is impossible, no matter what the US says?

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