Xi said there should be no tolerance for those that foster “chaos for selfish gains”, wording widely seen at the time as criticizing Pyongyang without mentioning it by name.
His comments came during months of provocations by North Korea, including a rocket launch seen as a disguised missile test, an atomic blast and threats of nuclear conflagration, and as the US and South Korea carried out joint war games.
“It’s definitely eroding,” Adam Cathcart, an expert on China-North Korea relations at Queen’s University Belfast, said of support among Chinese for Pyongyang.
At the Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolution in Beijing last week, visiting truck driver Pan Yude said China paid a high and worthwhile cost to defend its neighbor.
But his attitude hardened when asked about the North Korea of today, describing relations with Pyongyang as merely “so-so” and blaming what he sees as North Korean stubbornness.
“It can’t adapt to the trend of world historical development,” he said. “Up to now, its people are still going hungry and its leaders are militaristic and aggressive,” he added, standing in front of a display of tanks on the museum grounds, including US Sherman and Pershing vehicles captured during the conflict.
“To tell the truth, if Russia and China didn’t support it, the country would have quickly ceased to exist.”
Cathcart says factors behind the changing attitudes include the passing of the war generation, North Korea’s reluctance to publicly acknowledge China’s sacrifices, and Chinese authorities giving historians and commentators freer rein to examine past assumptions.
“There’s definitely a revision going on within China, whereas North Korea has really stuck to their narrative. And they have really said Kim Il-sung is the main man, it’s really about his genius,” he said, referring to the North’s founder and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un.
“And the Chinese think that’s ludicrous.”