The government has been pretty careful about what it has said and what is done. But the tone from China’s scholars has changed significantly from a few years back when they would eschew on-the-record quotes for anything that was even mildly controversial. That means something; I don’t know exactly what but it might be a sign of change.
Case in point is Zhu Feng’s recent piece. Zhu is a political heavyweight. He’s the deputy director of the Center for International & Strategic Studies at Peking Univesity.
Zhu basically argues that 1) North Korea’s claim that it carried out two nuclear tests because the UN Security Council criticized it for its sat/missile test is bogus. He cites “Chinese experts” who tell him that North Korea would have needed six months to prepare a test. That means, Zhu said, that North Korea planned to undertake these tests all along.
This leads Zhu to a pretty significant, and I’d argue newsworthy, conclusion about China’s role in all this. China, he said, had always believed that North Korea’s nuclear program was negotiable. That Pyongyang might be willing to give up its nukes as long as its economic and security interests could be met. Now, Zhu writes, all the evidence “points in the opposite direction. In fact, the recent nuclear test by the DPRK is not just a slap in the face of China, but a sobering wake-up call for the Chinese leadership to face up to the malignant nature of their North Korean counterparts.”