North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test earlier this month, so we can be pretty certain that the UN Security Council will meet in the near future to discuss a new set of measures to be implemented to deal with the perennial “North Korean issue.”
China needs a stable North Korea
China, in spite of intense displeasure it feels with North Korea’s nuclear program, still needs a stable North Korea, and does not want a crisis to erupt near its borders. China cannot fine-tune North Korea’s behavior. It probably can kick North Korea unconscious by dramatically reducing aid and perhaps even reciprocal trade. However, such drastic measures might very well provoke regime collapse, followed by massive political and military turmoil; clearly, this is not in China’s immediate interests.
Of course, there remains little in the way of sympathy for North Korea amongst either policymakers or the general public in China – indeed the country is seen as a joke. As one of my contacts in Beijing put it: “Within living memory, no country that was not at war with China has been so despised as North Korea is now.” Be that as it may, it seems that at some point last summer, the Chinese leaders made up their minds, and came to the conclusion that an erratic and nuclear, but domestically stable North Korea is still a lesser evil than a collapsing North Korea. Having come to such an understanding, Beijing decided to change its approach.
China is more annoyed by the U.S.
It is remarkable how annoyed Chinese analysts (including those who are not known to be loyal fans of the Communist Party) are by American attempts to exercise pressure on China over North Korea. The recent statements of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to the effect that China was not active enough in its efforts with regard to North Korean denuclearization went down like lead balloon in Pyongyang.
Many of my contacts indicate that things are now different from 2013, after North Korea’s third nuclear test, largely because of the South China Sea crisis and rising tensions between Beijing and Washington (maybe electoral rhetoric in the U.S. doesn't help things either). As one person I spoke with said, "It is impossible to fully cooperate on the Korean Peninsula issues so long as the United States continues to engage in provocative behavior in the South China Sea." For an outsider such as myself, it is a seriously open question as to who is being provocative in that particular patch of ocean, but the very fact that tensions are running high destroys what little hope there was for Chinese help on the issue.
Source: This article was written by Andrei Nikolaevich Lankov, a Russian scholar of Asia and a specialist in Korean studies. Read the entire piece at NKNews.org.