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Friday, September 9, 2016

North Korea’s nuclear test: China responds strongly but unlikely to do much

China said it resolutely opposed North Korea’s nuclear test on Friday but is unlikely to follow up with strong action because its influence is limited and it believes the United States and South Korea share responsibility for growing tensions in the region. China also said that it would lodge a diplomatic protest with North Korea’s embassy following the nuclear test. China, Pyongyang’s main diplomatic ally, is key in any effort to rein in North Korea’s nuclear programme.

But it has been infuriated by the isolated nation’s nuclear and missile tests and has signed up to increasingly tough United Nations sanctions. Beijing has also repeatedly expressed anger since the United States and South Korea decided in July to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system in the South to counter missile and nuclear threats from North Korea. China says this is a threat to its own security and will do nothing to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table on its nuclear programme. China’s official Xinhua news agency, in a commentary after North Korea confirmed the test, said it was shocking and unwise and would only “add oil to the flames”.

China said on Friday that it would lodge a diplomatic protest with North Korea’s embassy, hours after the country conducted its fifth nuclear test. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comment during a regular press briefing. But it added that nobody benefited from chaos or war in Korea and all parties in the international community should exercise restraint and avoid doing anything that is “mutually irritating”.

“Not long along, South Korea ignored the strong opposition of neighbouring countries and decided to deploy the THAAD system, which is diametrically opposed to efforts to maintain peace and stability on the peninsula, has seriously damaged regional strategic balance and caused a rise in tensions on the peninsula.”

Previous recent comments from China following North Korean missile tests, including one on Monday when China was hosting the G20 summit, have pointedly not mentioned North Korea by name. One senior Beijing-based Western official, who has worked in Pyongyang, said China had little influence and no control over North Korea, despite the popular perception in Washington. “The North Koreans don’t like the Chinese and certainly don’t listen to them,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. It’s also a misunderstanding to think that the North’s youthful leader Kim Jong Un is unhinged, he added.

“The North Korean leadership knows exactly what they are doing and how far they can push things. They know it would be the end of their country if they really provoked a war as the Americans would just flatten them.” Michael Madden, an expert on the North Korean leadership, said he was fairly confident that North Korea would have given Russia and China advance warning of the test.

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