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Opinion
Noah Feldman

Why China's OK With North Korea's Nuclear Nuttiness

For Beijing, the north moves from irritant to valuable proxy.
Stepping toward confrontation.

Stepping toward confrontation.

Source: KCNA/AFP/Getty Images)

Asia has gone nuts for nukes this week. On the heels of a Pentagon report that China is loading multiple warheads onto its intercontinental missiles, North Korea announced Wednesday that it has developed warheads of its own, making the transition from a nuclear-capable power to a nuclear-loaded one.

The North Koreans may be lying or exaggerating, of course. But even so, the announcement augurs a new stage in the complex relationship between China and North Korea. China regards the north as an unruly client state, annoying in practice but necessary as a buffer between the U.S. forces stationed in South Korea. Now, apparently, China may be prepared to treat North Korea as an actual nuclear proxy, strengthening Beijing's regional position by counterbalancing America's allies in Seoul.