China outraged over latest North Korean atomic test

China wary of cutting off oil supply for fear of provoking direct conflict with neighbour

China expressed outrage over North Korea's sixth nuclear test after a nuclear explosion caused a tremor in northern China and raised the prospect of tougher sanctions on Pyongyang.

Beijing slammed North Korea – which claimed the explosion was a hydrogen bomb – for ignoring the international community and United Nations sanctions, highlighting the strained relations between the two ideological allies.

“China’s government expresses resolute opposition and strong condemnation towards this,” the foreign ministry in Beijing put in a statement on its website.

However, Beijing stopped short of calling for tougher sanctions such as restrictions on fuel, as this could destabilise North Korea, an ally that China fought alongside in the Korean War against US-led forces.


The launch puts China in an awkward position. It fears an influx of refugees from the North if Kim Jong-un’s government collapses and Beijing also does not want US troops on its borders, which could happen if the Washington-backed South Korean government prevails in any conflict.

China’s environmental ministry announced it was testing for radiation. In China, the test was originally reported as an earth tremor as people posted photographs on social media of shaking objects in their homes.

China's state TV channel, CCTV, said the tremors could be felt in Changchun, a city 400km away from the North's test site at Punggye-ri.

The timing of the tests could put strain on relations, as it comes on the day before China hosts India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa for a Brics summit and ahead of a key Communist Party congress next month that will cement President Xinping's grip on power.

Mr Xi and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, agreed to "appropriately deal" with the latest nuclear test,

Wrong choice

The often-strident Global Times, which is not directly published by the state but gives indications of official thinking, described the test as "another wrong choice that Pyongyang has made in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and against the will of the international community."

However, it urged restraint and called for dialogue, echoing the long-held official line that talks must be held to resolve the issue. It also criticised the US for goading the North Koreans by staging ongoing joint military exercises with South Korea.

“If North Korea’s nuclear activities don’t contaminate China’s northeastern regions, China should avoid imposing overly aggressive sanctions on North Korea,” the newspaper said.

“The root cause of the North Korean nuclear issue is that the military pressure of the Washington-Seoul alliance generates a sense of insecurity for Pyongyang, which then believes that owning a nuclear strike capability is its sole guarantee for survival of its regime,” the Global Times wrote.

Lu Chao, a researcher on North Korea at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the publication: “North Korea is heading to a more dangerous and even a disastrous road by conducting its sixth nuclear test amid the most severe international sanctions.”

He noted that the possibility of a US military action had increased.

Da Zhigang at the Heilongjiang Academy of Social Sciences said China would not back extreme measures like closing off the border or cutting oil supply entirely, because China does not want direct conflict with its neighbour.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing