China gives power, energy, food, goods, and support to North Korea to keep it stable and a buffer zone in a relationship that is ambiguous and often frustrating. All of the previous scenarios weigh into China's calculations about its interests; a change in the status quo could bring a double portion of unhappiness to Chinese planners.
Beijing often complains that the US is trying to “contain” it. Yet for a decade, as North Korea crossed many “red lines” – going from IAEA nuclear inspectors, to actually testing nukes – Washington has relied on Beijing to organize its policy on Pyongyang.
China, in a sense, controls the relationship through the now-moribund Six-Party talks. Some China hawks in the US believe China voted for UN sanctions against North Korea in February partly to drive an unremovable wedge between America and North Korea. More moderate voices like that of Scott Snyder at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington argue: “The US is trying to get more cooperation from China but also has pursued direct talks” with Pyongyang.