Initial Chinese reaction to the launch of North Korea’s missile, in clear violation of UN Security Council Resolutions, is true to form. They will go along with international consensus just as far as they need to in order to blunt it.
Last time around, in 2006, the PRC played the familiar role of North Korean patron state, even as they expressed concern over its missile launch and nuke test. It is precisely because the Chinese blocked action in the Security Council that would have permitted enforcement that we are back at the Security Council again with this problem. And it is highly unlikely that their position has changed. They are poised again to block any meaningful action.
The PRC will not be shamed into action at the Security Council. Nevertheless, their neighbors, and others, should take note. China has acquired many of the assets that justify a more prominent role in the international community. But they are a long way from acquiring a responsible, global frame of mind. Critical commentators, in detailing China’s failure to become a “responsible stakeholder”, often hold up its actions in Iran, Sudan and Burma. (In each, it plays the same sort of blocking role in the UN that it plays in the case of North Korea.)
Oddly enough, North Korea is often held up as a positive exception to this rule. The PRC’s behavior in reaction to the North Korean missile launch will shoot down even that meager example.