North Korea is under fire for its recent provocations. Its key ally, China, which is believed to have the greatest influence on Pyongyang, has also expressed its disappointment - for the protocol.
Pyongyang has been very predictable in the past few days. It has been in headlines for one reason or another every day. North Korea wants to restart its nuclear plant in Yongbyon, which has been shut down for six years. North Korea blocks access to key Kaesong industrial park. Kim Jong Un cuts last communication line with the South. Pyongyang approves nuclear attack on the US. This is just the list since last weekend.
Warnings and pleas from the international community to the isolated country have gone unheard - no matter whether from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, US Secretary of State Chuck Hagel or South Korean President Park Geun-hye. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had his spokesperson announce that Germany would stick to South Korea no matter what. The statement was connected to a demand to China to use its role as the North's neighbor and number-one ally "responsibly" and as a moderator.
But for the People's Republic of China, which along with other members of the World Security Council agreed to harder sanctions after the North's rocket launch in December and its nuclear test in February, there is not much behind the harsh words. The situation on the Korean Peninsula was "precarious" and "difficult" at the moment, said the foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei, who described Pyongyang's plans for nuclear development as "regrettable."
Professor Jian Cai of the Korea Institute of the Fudan University in Shanghai was less diplomatic. He said the announcement to restart the Yongbyon nuclear power plant was a "blatant breach of an agreement made in Six Party Talks in 2007." He added that with regard to its isolated neighbor, China was in a real dilemma. Beijing wants to avoid war because otherwise, Chinese soldiers would have to fight alongside North Korea and against the US.
Cai said China was disappointed with North Korea. "As a long-time ally, China is disappointed in Pyongyang's attitude. The government is of the opinion that North Korea is being inconsiderate of China, which has increasingly pushed for stability in the region." He said it was important that Pyongyang knew there would be consequences for its actions, which was why China had spoken out in favor of new sanctions, which it had not done in the past. China would, nonetheless, stand by North Korea, Cai said. "Under no circumstances will China give up on North Korea."
Zhangjin Huang, deputy editor-in-chief of the "Phoenix Weekly" was of a similar view. He said there would be no great changes to the Chinese politics. "It is clear for the government that North Korea is a problem child. But for a socialist state like China, the North Korean neighbor poses much less of a threat than a liberal, democratic country." For China, North Korea was also an important buffer between it and the US military presence in South Korea and Japan.
Of course, China did hope that Pyongyang would reconsider its attitude. But if that didn't happen, according to Huang, there would be two worst-case scenarios. "What China does not want to see is the unification of North and South Korea. But even worse for China would be if the US and South Korea were to destroy the Kim Jong Un regime." What China basically wants is peace and quiet in its neighborhood. But at the moment, there is not much of that.