Chinese Reactions to the Three North Korean Nuclear Tests: 2006, 2009, and 2013


By Xiaocheng Ziang, HRNK Intern
School of International Service, American University

HRNK intern Xiaocheng Ziang was tasked to conduct research on primary sources reflecting Chinese official and media reactions to the North Korean nuclear tests conducted in October 2006, May 2009 and February 2013, and to provide accurate translations of the terminology used. The research indicates that the Chinese reaction to the first test in October 2006 was the strongest. Chinese reactions to the recent February 2013 test were not more forceful than before. The findings of that research are summarized below.

I. Statements by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • "Prevent" rather than "oppose" proliferation of nuclear weapons. The word "prevent" might mean China will offer to do some concrete actions as a response to the DPRK's behavior rather than just verbally "oppose" the launches.
  • The recurring statement, "China will continue to make unremitting efforts to maintain peace and stability in the Northeast Asia region," was not used in 2013. Some experts believe the absence of this statement means that China will no longer tolerate the DPRK's aggressive behavior. It is possible that China will take actions to prevent the DPRK's nuclear program.

The following three statements detail the differences in word-usage:

1. October 9, 2006: First Test
  • The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the DPRK.
  • The DPRK flagrantly conducted the test.
  • China strongly demands the DPRK to live up to its commitment to the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, stop any activity that may worsen the situation, and return to the Six-Party Talks.
  • It has been the firm, unshakable and consistent stance of the Chinese government to realize the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and oppose proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • The Chinese government calls for a calm response from all concerned parties and urges them to keep to a peaceful resolution of the issue through consultations and dialogues.
  • China will continue to make unremitting efforts to maintain peace and stability in the Northeast Asia region.
2. May 25, 2009: Second Test
  •  The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the DPRK.
  • The DPRK disregarded/ignoredopposition by the international community.
  • China strongly demands the DPRK to live up to its commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, stop any activity that may worsen the situation, and return to the Six-Party Talks.
  • China opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • China will continue to make unremitting efforts to maintain peace and stability in the Northeast Asia region.
3. Feb. 12th, 2013: Third Test
  • The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to the nuclear test by the DPRK.
  • Regardless of opposition by the international community.
  • Prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.
  • China strongly urges the DPRK

II. Top Leaders’ Reactions: Presidents and Foreign Ministers

China's reactions to the third test included phone calls to the U.S., ROK, as well as a call to the DPRK ambassador. The previous two nuclear tests only involved two of the three actions.

1. October 9, 2006: First Test
  • Chinese President Hu Jintao spoke over the telephone with U.S. President George W. Bush, stating China’s viewpoint and requiring the DPRK to no longer take aggressive actions that might further aggravate the situation.
  • Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing talked over the telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, exchanging views on the latest development of the situation on the Korean peninsula. Li reiterated China's solemn and just position on the issue as announced in the Foreign Ministry's statement.
2. May 25, 2009: Second Test
  • China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called in DPRK Ambassador to China Choe Jin-su, voicing strong protest.
  • Vice President Xi Jingping expressed strong criticism when meeting with Director Lee Sung-hui of the ROK Ministry of Defense.
  • Zhen Zhili, Vice Chairman of the People's Assembly, canceled a planned official visit to North Korea.
3. February 12, 2013: Third Test
  • February 12th: Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi calls in the DPRK ambassador Ji Jae-ryong, lodging official criticism and opposition to the test. Yang says that China is discontent and strongly against the third test. Yang also requests the DPRK to stop any actions that might result in a deterioration of the situation.
  • February 12th: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi speaks over the telephone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in the evening, exchanging views on the latest test. Yang reiterated China's solemn and just position on the issue, calling for a resolution to be sought under the Six-Party Talks.
  • February 13th: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi speaks over the telephone with ROK Foreign Minister Kim, exchanging views on the Korean Peninsula.
  • February 14th: Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi speaks over the telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, exchanging views on the DPRK nuclear test and the Korean peninsula.
III. Press Conferences

1. October 12, 2006: First Test
  •  Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at the routine press conference: (1) International community should not "punish" North Korea. (Punishment is not the goal, which means China opposes sanctions  & does not think sanctions will work.) (2) Chinese aid to North Korea will not be influenced since it is meant to improve the livelihoods of North Koreans.
2. Second Test
  • No information about the press conference on the second test. There were no routine press conferences during the Chinese New Year holiday From February the 10th to February the 25th, 2013.
3. February 18, 2013: Third Test (First Press Conference after the New Year)
  •  On the new UNSC sanctions on North Korea: China is willing to talk with the UNSC, ROK, and U.S. on nuclear issues in the DPRK. There is NO direct response on whether China will support U.N. sanctions or not.

IV. Media

1. May 25, 2009: Second Test
  •  High-level communication between China and the DPRK pauses for a short time.
  • 2009 marks the 60th anniversary of China-DPRK relations, however, China is unwilling to hold any celebrations at this point.
  • China highlights control over    exporting to North Korea after the second nuclear test.
  • China is strongly discontent with the DPRK's second test and also expresses concerns about radiation influence on the Northeastern residents in China.
  • China is said to rethink its foreign policy on the DPRK.
  • June 13, 2009 People’s Daily: China supports the UNSC's response to the DPRK's second test. 
  • Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang says "sanctions" are not the goal, and political and foreign policy methods are the only ways to solve the problem.
2. February 12, 2013: Third Test
  •  Due to special editions during the Chinese New Year, People’s Daily did not publish any commentary on North Korea, but two days later on the 14th, it listed criticism from different countries on the third page.
  • February 19, 2013 People's Daily: United States makes use of the DPRK’s third test. Ren Weidong, junior researcher at China Institute of Contemporary International Relations published an editorial article claiming that the United States created public panic about the DPRK’s third test.


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