Are Kim’s nuclear provocations a message to China, not USA?

Kim's nuclear provocations
Analysts have suggested that Kim’s recent provocations were intended to make more of an impact on China than the USA. Picture courtesy of The Daily Star

China said today (Monday, September 4) that it had lodged an official protest with North Korea following yesterday’s H-bomb test.

The explosion, which measured 6.3 on the Richter Scale, has raised questions about how Beijing will respond to its neighbour’s latest provocation.


China “launched stern representations with the person in charge of the DPRK [North Korean] embassy in China”, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a press briefing.

“China opposes the DPRK in carrying out nuclear missile development and we are committed to denuclearisation of the peninsula. This position is well-known and the DPRK also knows this position perfectly well,” he said.

“The DPRK must be very clear about that. So we hope all parties — especially the DPRK side — could exercise restraint and refrain from further escalating the tensions.”


Mr Geng did not say whether Beijing would support further sanctions on Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Kim’s nuclear provocations

The latest in Kim’s nuclear provocations drew strong condemnation from the international community.

Sundays’ test came just hours before Chinese president Xi Jinping was set to deliver a major speech at a gathering of BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — in southern China.


Such timing has led some analysts to suggest that Kim’s nuclear provocations are intended to register more with China than the USA.

They say it may be a strategy to twist Beijing’s arm into orchestrating direct talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

Chinese propaganda paints Xi as an infallible father figure. But Kim’s actions are exposing the Chinese leader’s failure to stop a nuclear crisis on his doorstep.

Shi Yinhong, Director of the Center for American Studies at Renmin University in Beijing said: “North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests have put China in a more and more difficult position.”

Mr Shi said Kim had recently become “more and more hostile towards China”. This was because Beijing had agreed to tougher sanctions against Pyongyang.

Xi “like a cue ball”

Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University said Kim might be using Xi “like a cue ball in billiards in order to get negotiations with the United States”.

David Kelly of Beijing-based think tank China Policy said the new sanctions and China’s suspension of North Korean coal imports were likely triggers for Kim’s nuclear provocations.

“The message is: I am not to be messed with,” he said. “He’s been messed with by the games played by Washington and Beijing.”

Mr Shi added that Kim’s true intentions may never be fully known. However one thing appears certain — he views his nuclear and missile programmes as vital to protecting his rule.

“The years have proven that all of the military threats will not change Kim’s determination to develop nuclear weapons, nor block his ability to do so,” he said.

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