In the Chinese city of Yanji on Monday, social media showed home videos of shaking chandeliers. The city sits on the border with North Korea, close enough to the nuclear test site for the tremors to be clearly felt — and seen. 

North Korea does not have many friends in the international community. But in the past, China has been a powerful backer. 

According to Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS at London University, North Korea's latest test would have angered China's leadership. "Particularly because the test happened as Xi Jinping was greeting guests for the BRICS Summit. It was a slap in the face, to say the least."

But whether that anger will translate into significant new action remains much less clear, Tsang says. North Korea is dependent on China for its economic survival, but Beijing is also committed to avoiding any risk of regime change in Pyongyang, according to Tsang. "The Chinese will adopt a tougher policy — but the question is whether the Chinese will do what it takes to make it really hurt for North Korea. And that remains to be seen; I suspect probably not." 

For China, Kim Jong-un's provocations need to be weighed against the possibility that a regime change in Pyongyang might give hope to proponents of a regime change in Beijing, too. The Chinese Communist Party sees its survival of the fall of communism in Europe as one of its greatest achievements, but is not willing to run the risk of a coup or economic collapse in North Korea, Professor Tsang says. "The implosion of the North Korean regime might signal to Chinese dissidents that the Chinese Communist Party may no longer have the political will and capacity to stay in power."

You can listen to more of this interview with Steve Tsang, about North Korea, by clicking the "play" button above. 


From PRI's The World ©2017 PRI