Apart from sparking global outrage, North Korea’s claim about the “spectacular success” of its first hydrogen bomb test also raised questions as to what China can do, if anything at all, to rein in Kim Jong-un’s nuclear aspirations.
The United States, in particular, has been vocal in its criticism of Beijing’s failure to stop Pyongyang. Secretary of State John Kerry publicly prodded China, saying its “soft” attitude toward the reclusive state has been a complete failure.
Kerry added while the U.S. "respected" Beijing’s approach, it was no longer going to tolerate it. "Today in my conversation with the Chinese I made it very clear: That has not worked and we cannot continue business as usual," he told reporters in Washington.
The indignation is understandable, but it isn’t reasonable, primarily because unlike what the U.S. government believes, China doesn’t have a significant influence over North Korea.
It’s true that the hermit kingdom has one and only real ally in the Asia Pacific and that’s China.
However, long before North Korea’s alleged hydrogen technology test, this long-term alliance had started to weaken, especially after February 2013 when Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test, despite threats of economic sanctions from the United Nations. In response, the state-controlled Bank of China ended dealings with a key North Korean bank.
Lingering tensions between the two allies stepped up when a North Korean pop group called the Moranbong Band — formed by Kim Jong-un himself — abruptly canceled concerts in Beijing in December and left the country for unspecified reasons.
The most obvious example of the deteriorating relationship, however, remains the purported detonation of the hydrogen bomb which is being called “a real slap in the face” to Beijing, and perhaps rightly so.
China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and main source of food, arms and energy. And by defying its ally’s repeated objections to nuclear tests, Pyongyang has proven China has no power in North Korea’s foreign policy whatsoever.
Even Chinese citizens are voicing their exasperation against North Korea online.
The cartoon above, posted on Chinese Twitter-like website Weibo, depicts Kim Jong-un as a video game character bouncing on a nuclear bomb cloud with a caption reading, "What does Kim the Fat want this time?"
Another post presented the North Korean dictator as “a loose cannon,” BBC reported.
And it’s not as if China has been mum over North Korea’s recent theatrics. In an editorial, the China Daily said the test, which China claims it was not informed about in advance, was “risky, irresponsible and reckless.”
“China’s foreign ministry has strongly urged the DPRK to keep its promise on denuclearisation and stop actions that will lead to the situation deteriorating,” the newspaper stated. “There should be no tolerance and compromise on this issue.”