Yet it remains unclear how much influence China has with North Korea. Despite Beijing's entreaties, Pyongyang has refused to return to Chinese-hosted six-nation nuclear disarmament talks that had won China credit as a responsible international power.
In a sign of China's rising pique, the Foreign Ministry recently took an unusual swipe at North Korea for spending on defense, rocket and nuclear programs instead of the economy. "We would also like to actively encourage the relevant country to develop economy and improve people's living conditions," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters late last month.
Chinese media have also been running commentaries suggesting Chinese interests need not be held hostage by its desire for a stable North Korea.
"If North Korea ignores the persuasion and eventually carries out a third nuclear bomb test, it must pay a heavy price for it. The various kinds of aid it receives from China will be decreased for good reasons. Of this, we hope the Chinese government will warn North Korea in advance, so that they will not have other fantasies," the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid that often airs controversial views, said in a commentary last week.The latest test may not be enough to push the new leadership into casting North Korea adrift, but China may employ tougher measures, given that it has already upped the ante by agreeing to the tightened U.N. sanctions. If it does, North Korea can't say it wasn't warned. ___ Associated Press writer Charles Hutzler and researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report from Beijing.