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(News Focus) China's dilemma over N. Korea deepens after nuclear test

2016/01/11 18:36

BEIJING, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's fourth nuclear test has reopened the debate over the role of China in reining in the wayward ally, but Beijing is unlikely to put enough pressure on Pyongyang as it serves as a buffer zone against U.S. influence on the Korean Peninsula.

China is North Korea's top trading partner and supplies almost all of the isolated ally's energy needs, but many analysts believe that China's Communist Party leadership won't exert enough leverage on North Korea because a sudden collapse of the North's regime could threaten China's own security interests.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged China to end "business as usual" with North Korea and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se called for China to join in sending a "strong message" to the North.

China's reactions to such calls were lukewarm. China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters last week, "China is not the cause and crux of the Korean nuclear issue, nor is it the key to resolving the problem."

   After all, analysts and diplomatic sources in Beijing said China appears only determined to back a limited version of new U.N. sanctions against North Korea's latest nuclear test.

"As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has always unequivocally opposed the DPRK's nuclear program and urged it to honor its commitment to denuclearization," Wang Junsheng, an associate professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in an op-ed piece published by state-run China Daily newspaper. DPRK is an acronym of North Korea's official name.

"It should support the UNSC's decision to deal with Pyongyang's latest violation of relevant resolutions on banning the development of nuclear weapons, while watching closely the possible intervention of Washington and Seoul, which have always harbored doubts about Kim's leadership," Wang said.

South Korea resumed a campaign of loudspeakers blasting propaganda into North Korea in retaliation over the North's fourth nuclear test. The U.S. flew a powerful B-52 bomber over South Korea in a show of force.

On Monday, China's foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei called for "all relevant parties" to exercise restraint, referring to the flight of a U.S. bomber and the South Korean military's anti-Pyongyang loudspeaker broadcasts.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un went ahead with the fourth nuclear test because it will not cause China to abandon the North, said Kim Hwan-suk, a senior analyst at the Seoul-based Institute for National Security Strategy.

"North Korea used brinkmanship because it knows that China won't abandon it, given its strategic value," Kim said. "North Korea does not expect China to fully support sanctions against the North by the U.N. Security Council."