China takes bolder stance against North’s test

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China takes bolder stance against North’s test

Following North Korea’s unexpected fourth nuclear test on Wednesday, Beijing appears to be wary about sticking up for its longtime ally and went so far as to sternly and publicly respond to the incident.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi publicly criticized Pyongyang for the test, which came despite international warnings, at a New Year’s reception hosted by the country’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday evening.

The gathering, held at the Chinese government’s Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, was attended by 350 people, including foreign diplomats and North Korean Ambassador to Beijing Ji Jae-ryong.

In the last-minute remarks of his speech at the reception, Wang acknowledged Pyongyang’s nuclear test earlier that day and referred to the statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, which expressed China’s displeasure at North Korea’s disregard for international concerns, sources said.

One diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday, “This can be read as how displeased China was with North Korea. Seeing that the [test] was included in the reception’s welcoming remarks is an indication of how touchy China will be in response [to Pyongyang].”

Ji has been posted as North Korea’s top envoy to China since 2010 and is said to have made many acquaintances in Beijing. He was also seen making conversation with others at the event.

While Pyongyang has referred to its hydrogen bomb test as a move against threats by Washington, it was actually meant to serve as a slight to China and an indication that it would not listen to Beijing anymore, some experts have said.

China, they said, also appears to have grown tired of defending Pyongyang to the international community.

After North Korea’s previous three nuclear tests, conducted in 2006, 2009 and 2013, the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed in statements or press briefings a position that generally called for a calm response from all parties concerned.

“China has, [following the past three nuclear tests], used courteous expressions that circumvented pointing to a particular assailant out of consideration for its blood alliance with North Korea,” a South Korean diplomatic source said. “This, in a round-about way, also signified that the United States was part of the reason for the provocation.”

However, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying specified Wednesday in a briefing that North Korea had once again “conducted a nuclear test in disregard of the widespread opposition from the international community.”

The Chinese government is “firmly opposed” to the North’s actions, she added, and knew nothing about the nuclear test beforehand.

Hua went on to “strongly urge” the North Korean side “to honor its commitment to denuclearization and to stop acting in ways that worsen the situation,” in what was intended as a blunt response to Pyongyang.

In an emergency meeting on Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council decided to “take further significant measures,” as it has vowed to do in the past should North Korea conduct another nuclear test.

Council President Elbio Rosselli, Uruguay’s ambassador to the United Nations, said its members, which includes veto-holders China and Russia, would “begin work immediately on ... a new Security Council resolution.”

The Security Council has over the past decade passed four resolutions in response to the North’s nuclear tests, which have imposed economic and commercial sanctions.

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has long stood up for North Korea, but how tough the sanctions and further measures will be on Pyongyang will depend largely on Beijing’s response.

“While China in the past has emphasized that they need to calmly respond to North Korea’s provocations, in this Security Council meeting … there were no remarks attempting to stick up for North Korea,” a South Korean government official said.

BY SARAH KIM, YOO JEE-HYE [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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