While the rest of the world looks to Beijing to stop North Korea from exploding a nuclear bomb, a leading Chinese analyst says it is too late - China cannot act without doing worse harm to its own interests.
[North Korea] "considers its national interests to be greater than its relations with China," says highly regarded Shen Dingli, of Shanghai's Fudan University, in his remarkably frank commentary, circulated yesterday by a North Korea-focused think tank, the Nautilus Institute.
South Korea and China redoubled their efforts to persuade Washington to agree to separate, bilateral talks with the Kim regime, in order to secure its agreement to return to the six-party discussions it has boycotted since November.
An economic and security chaos accompanying a regime collapse is the most feared scenario in Beijing and Seoul.
In the UN Security Council, China resisted a condemnatory statement against Pyongyang's test threat because, Chinese ambassador Wang Guangya said, "if the six-party talks cannot do anything about it, I don't think the council is in a position (to do anything)".
In Mr Shen's analysis, North Korea now believes it needs to test a bomb because that will unmistakably demonstrate its nuclear capability which, in turn, will deter the US from any attack.
Mr Shen argues that the North Koreans are prepared to weather deeper trade and financial sanctions from the US, Japan and other Western countries because they believe that ultimately, the Americans will have to accept their nuclear-state status, as happened with India and Pakistan.