By Victoria Craw
China has shut down the option of a military response to the North Korean missile crisis, saying war is not the solution to Kim Jong Un's growing nuclear capabilites.
Speaking this week following a visit from US Joint Chief of Staff General Joseph Dunford, China's defense spokesman Colonel Ren Guoqiang warned the US and others to refrain from using language that made the critical situation even worse.
"China stays committed to the goal of denuclearization, upholding peace and stability on the peninsula and resolving the issue through peaceful means of dialogue and negotiation," he said.
"It is our position that military means cannot be an option for resolving the issue. Especially under the current circumstance, relevant parties should keep restraint to avoid increasing tension on the Korean Peninsula."
The rebuke comes after US President Trump said "talking is not the answer" as North Korea continues to carry out ballistic missile tests and the US and South Korea practice war games in the area.
Escalating tensions have led global leaders to point the finger at China - as the country with the most economic leverage against North Korea - to exert pressure on the rogue state to force them to back down.
But director of London's SOAS China Institute, Professor Steve Tsang, said China won't budge from its apparent policy of containing North Korea as it wants to avoid a total collapse of the regime at all costs.
"Allowing Kim to be the nuisance that he is now is bad. But nowhere near the worst," Prof Tsang said about China's view of the situation unfolding on its border.
"The worst would be the implosion of the North Korean regime. That would then pose serious risks to the Communist party in China. That is probably worse than some sort of shooting incident happening."
Prof Tsang said while Kim is a "complete nuisance" to the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping is walking a tightrope between appearing strong domestically and globally, while dealing with a rogue state that does not like being told what to do.
"[China] would like to project that they are the moderating force and they will be doing something behind the scenes. But the reality is the actual leverage they have on a working level is quite limited."
"Kim Jong-un is not keen to be bullied by the Chinese to do anything in particular. Kim Jong-un has never met Xi Jinping .... you don't really have an effective direct channel at the top level," Prof Tsang said.
Perhaps most critical for China are fears of what the collapse of North Korea could mean on the Korean peninsula. Prof Tsang said an implosion could lead to a unification under South Korea and signal the Chinese government no longer has the will do "do what it takes" to crackdown on dissidents.
"Kim knows that and therefore he can play the Chinese like he plays the Japanese, the Koreans and everyone else."
"The Chinese are doing something in terms of sanctions but they're not going to go the whole hog because the risk of destabilising the political situation is too high," he said, adding that President Xi has no interest in playing second-fiddle to the US.
"How is the strongman of China going to square that circle of following Mr Trump and doing Mr Trump's bidding largely for Mr Trump's benefit?"
The conundrum comes amid growing calls for China to step up and help stop the nuclear testing that has led to emergency warning systems going off in Japan and official advice issued in Guam and Hawaii.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pointed directly at China this week as the country with the "greatest leverage and therefore the greatest responsibility" on the issue.
"They have the unique ability to bring this regime to its senses without conflict," he said, adding it could "go further" than recent economic sanctions.
"They could cut off their oil supply for example. So China really has to step up now. This is a nation of 20 million people, it is a brutal dictatorship, the population kept in complete subservience, many of them are barely fed, it's the most shocking regime," he said.
"We're not suggesting that China is responsible for what North Korea is doing at all but they do have the greatest leverage and with the greatest leverage comes the greatest responsibility."