North Korea’s Step Too Far?

BEIJING – After nearly a month of belligerent bluster from North Korea, China appears to have had enough, ending its silence about North Korea’s brinkmanship and suddenly roaring its disapproval of its ally’s reckless threats. China’s exceptional tough talk does not necessarily mean that it intends to abandon Kim Jong-un’s regime; but, at the very least, it does suggest that a radical shift in China’s policy toward North Korea might no longer be unthinkable.

When Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi exchanged phone calls with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on April 6, he expressed China’s rejection of rhetoric and action aimed at destabilizing the Northeast Asian region. Moreover, Wang made clear that China would not allow “troublemaking on China’s doorstep.”

The next day, Chinese President Xi Jinping, speaking to an assembly of primarily Asian political and business leaders at the annual government-sponsored Boao Forum for Asia, declared that no country “should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain.” Xi did not mention any country by name, but his implicit condemnation of North Korea was clear to all.

Before these official rebukes, there had been much speculation about whether China would risk a fundamental change in its relations with North Korea, the socialist “little brother” that it continues to subsidize heavily. Following the rare display of open indignation by Xi and Wang, such speculation has now become stronger than ever.