China went along with these resolutions, but only because they were imposed as a response to nuclear tests, says Prof. Cai. “Beijing is more tolerant of missile tests, because the missiles have not yet been put to military use,” he adds.
“China cannot do much at the moment because, although it opposes North Korea’s challenges, it is more concerned with the country’s domestic political stability,” Cai believes. Beijing sees North Korea as a strategic counterweight to US-backed South Korea, “so it wants the current government in Pyongyang to survive.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who took over from his father last December, is young and leads a government that has recently shown signs of divisions. “There are still a lot of risks and uncertainties,” says Cai. “If the international community applies too much pressure, the regime might collapse.”
Beijing also fears that a tough UN resolution might make the regional security situation worse, suggests Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, an international think tank.
“North Korea could take additional steps that could cascade into further reactions,” says Mr. Pinkston. In the past, Pyongyang has launched an artillery assault across its border with South Korea, sunk a South Korean naval vessel, tested nuclear devices, and launched missiles near its neighbors’ territory.