Authorities might only feel compelled to act if tensions escalated dramatically, for example, if Japan and South Korea began to consider their own nuclear options, Yuan said.
Yet seeking to wind down the situation at such a late stage might prove too little too late, he continued, and in the meantime Beijing was effectively giving Pyongyang a green light on its nuclear ambitions.
“It has issued strong statements but it has not really seriously followed up with specific actions,” he said.
“North Korea knows pretty well that China is concerned about instability and uncertainty, so they basically continue with their own policy, disregarding Chinese pleas or whatever internal message they send to the North Korean leaders.”
Beijing voted for a resolution last month by the UN Security Council, where it has a veto, expanding sanctions against Pyongyang for a rocket launch in December, but only after lengthy negotiations to soften the punishment.
Jia said support in China for a tougher line on North Korea was growing, and he expected Beijing to show more backing for international measures against Pyongyang, but it would still look to balance that with stability.
“The international community should not expect too much from China,” he said.