But now America, Japan, and South Korea are forging closer military and intelligence ties in the face of the North Korean nuclear threat.
The three are building missile defenses that work against Chinese as well as North Korean missiles.
And we build offensive forces like long-range missiles, ground forces, and air power capable of striking and invading North Korea, a capability that could be used against Chinese forces if China tries to maintain their North Korean buffer territory.
With North Korea raging against these three and going postal on real and imagined enemies of the state, North Korea could start or provoke war.
So all of a sudden, the North Korean antics aren't so funny:
The [Chinese] government openly asked North Korea to stop its nuclear and ballistic missile tests and implied that if North Korea complied China would persuade the United States and South Korea to halt their military preparations to deal with a North Korean attack. North Korea was apparently not impressed. ...
China offers North Korea a choice; cooperate and be rewarded or continue to offend their “elder brother” and suffer the consequences. North Korea has not cooperated and China is reluctant to deliver consequences (the removal of Kim Kong Un) that will work.
The post also notes that since 2014, China has told North Korea that Chinese cavalry won't ride to the rescue if North Korea either attacks South Korea or if the Pyongyang government collapses.
But I sincerely doubt that this means China would stay out of North Korea in a crisis. I suspect China would move into part of North Korea to keep a buffer zone away from Chinese territory, even if it no longer will defend or prop up the North Korean regime.
There could be a partition of North Korea yet, although it seems more likely now that it could be either two (divided between China and South Korea) or maybe three (throwing in a small Russian zone in the northeast) if China is willing.
Let's hope that deals are cut. If it is a race, accidents can happen if each side sets their own finish line.