By Ben Blanchard and Philip Wen
BEIJING (Reuters) – North Korea’s latest nuclear test is likely to pile more pressure on China to take tough action against its neighbor, but Beijing already doubts economic sanctions will work and says it is not its sole responsibility to rein in Pyongyang.
China has lambasted the West and its allies over recent weeks for promoting the “China responsibility theory” for North Korea, and been upset by Seoul and Washington’s own military drills that Beijing says have done nothing to cool tensions.
“The United States has to play its own role and should not be blindly putting pressure on China to try and squeeze North Korea,” said Ruan Zongze, a former Chinese diplomat now with the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated with the Foreign Ministry.
While the seriousness of Sunday’s nuclear test means China will likely support tough new action, including possibly cutting off oil supplies, China will make clear others need to step up too, Ruan added.
Over the past week, China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly hit back at calls from Western countries and Japan for China for to do more to rein in North Korea, saying that pushing for dialogue was an equally integral part of the U.N. resolutions, and that escalating sanctions alone had been evidently ineffective.
“On the one hand, sanctions have continued to be put in place via resolutions and on the other hand North Korea’s nuclear and missile launch process is still continuing,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last week.
The Global Times, a state-run newspaper, also attacked British and Australian leaders for calling on China to do more, especially Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s suggestion that China should cut off oil supplies to North Korea.
The tone in which China has pushed back has had some Western diplomats raising questions over the extent to which Beijing would be willing to stomach further sanctions, before it argues that they could destabilize the Kim Jong Un regime.
China’s big fear has always been that cutting North Korea off completely could lead to its collapse, unleashing a wave of refugees into China’s rustbelt provinces in the northeast.
One Beijing-based Western diplomat, speaking late last week before the nuclear test, said China had cooperated with the United States on sanctions to a certain degree, in order not to give Washington a pretext for a military strike.
“But they won’t go far enough to have an impact on North…