China is North Korea’s biggest trade partner and arguably has the most leverage on Kim Jong-un’s regime.
But while Beijing appears willing to condemn its neighbour’s nuclear developments, analysts say its cautious policies remain focused on stability.
China has historically opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea in the hope of avoiding regime collapse and a refugee influx across their 870-mile border.
But Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and ongoing missile launches have complicated its relationship with Beijing, which has continued to advocate for the resumption of the Six Party Talks, the multilateral framework aimed at denuclearising North Korea.
A purge of top North Korean officials since its young leader came to power and the assassination of Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-un’s exiled half- brother, in Malaysia also spurred concern from China about the stability and direction of North Korean leadership. Yet China’s policies have done little to deter its neighbour’s nuclear ambitions.
The relationship has prompted questions over how far Pyongyang would have to go before Beijing turned on its neighbour.
After this month's latest missile test, again over the Sea of Japan and which North Korea claimed could have reached the United States mainland, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations warned the regime that it could be "utterly destroyed" if its provocations started a military conflict.
China criticised its neighbour, but in far more measured tones, saying that while it had "grave concern and opposition" to the launch, it wanted to "preserve peace and stability" in the region.
Paul Haenle, director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center based at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told CNBC that he didn't think the latest missile test "would change China's position on North Korea."
"While China continues to want a denuclearized peninsula, stability is its first priority. China prefers to live with a nuclear-powered but friendly neighbor to one with only conventional weapons, but that is unfriendly," he said.
"What would change that calculus is if North Korean nuclear tests began to impact the safety or environment of China's northeast, thereby threatening Chinese domestic and social stability. With President Trump's visit behind them, I don't see Chinese leaders feeling the same urgency to step up pressure on North Korea outside of the normal United Nations process," he said.