On the surface of it, China is North Korea’s only real friend in the world. The country provides its isolated neighbour with investment, aid and fuel, and trade between the nations has reached an all time high.However, today’s nuclear test is a reminder that North Korea is in many ways a renegade state, even amongst its friends — and those friends may well be losing patience.
China’s official reaction has been swift. Following the test, China’s Foreign Ministry today summoned the North Korean ambassador in Beijing and gave him a stern talking to. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi reportedly said China was “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the test.
Public opinion in China has steadily grown tougher over the past few years at what many see is the smaller country’s insubordination and ingratitude. Earlier this month a state newspaper, the Global Times, ran an editorial suggesting that China should cut aid to North Korea if the test went ahead.
Josh China of the WSJ and Liz Carter of Tea Leaf Nation have been surveying the reaction of Chinese citizens on Weibo, and both appear to find the majority of comments are negative. One user suggests that China’s support of North Korea is like “raising a mad dog to protect your house”, while another complained about “Fatty Kim the Third.”
This isn’t the first time Chinese citizens have had their patience tested by North Korea. After a surprising report about North Korean soldiers capturing, beating and robbing a group of Chinese fishermen last year there was a similar response from Chinese citizens. “Why feed a stray dog?” wrote one Weibo user.
Is a third nuclear test the final straw? While it may have angered many in China, the Chinese government’s relationship with North Korea has always been complicated, with reports that the country may even be actively aiding Kim Jong-un’s missile program. If anything, the Chinese government appears to be keen on keeping the North Korean regime stable — any regime collapse could create wider repercussions for the region, not least of all China who may well be the main recipient of any North Korean refugees.
Keeping either side of the relationship happy is proving to be increasingly difficult, however, as the angry North Korean response to Chinese media reports on Kim Jong-un’s “plastic surgery” showed.
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