Analysis: North Korea nuclear-test drama rehashes old script

Wed Feb 13, 2013 1:43am EST
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By Paul Eckert and Michael Martina

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - A North Korean nuclear test draws international condemnation, modest U.N. sanctions and expressions of hope in the United States that China will finally rein in its brazen ally.

Beijing chides North Korea, but nothing much happens.

The world has seen this movie before and it's likely to witness another rerun after North Korea's third nuclear test on Tuesday.

Beijing has always been loath to back harsh sanctions on North Korea, fearing it could lead to upheaval in the unpredictable nation on its doorstep. Now, threatened by the U.S. military's "pivot" to Asia, Beijing is even less likely to fall in line with Washington's position on North Korea.

"The more the United States rebalances its forces in the Western Pacific, the more China has to give leeway in regulating its relationship with North Korea," said Shen Dingli, a regional security expert at Shanghai's Fudan University.

And North Korea is exploiting the current high levels of Sino-American mistrust.

China's initial reaction to the test - that it was "strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed" to the North's move - suggested Beijing's new leadership would not crack down on its isolated neighbor, with whom it shares a long border and rising trade.

And the remarks were tepid compared with tough warnings in some state-run Chinese media, including hints of aid cuts, that preceded the explosion.   Continued...

A North Korean soldier walks along the banks of Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong February 12, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer