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Despite high hopes from Seoul and Washington, China articulated that it was not ready to “abandon” North Korea in the wake of Kim Jong-un’s nuclear test in January 2016, and that there would be slim chance of this occurring in the future. Seoul and Washington’s (so far invalidated) hopes of such were premised on China’s unusually strong anger and reaction toward North Korea’s third nuclear test in 2013. Many observers have since commented that China’s patience with its Cold War ally was finally wearing thin. With that, the narrative “China will abandon North Korea” has been the mainstay of relevant discussions in the public sphere. Given the importance of the 2013 nuclear test, this paper reviews major events in 2013 that shaped the public perception of China’s growing anger and frustration with North Korea and the potential presence of alternative explanations or counter-perspectives while scrutinizing both narratives. Finally, it establishes the interpretation that, while a series of events may have shaped the popular narrative concerning China- North Korea relations in 2013 and given the public reason to believe in changes to China’s fundamental policies, however no such actual change occurred, revealing a mismatch between China’s words and actions. It concludes with some forward-looking thoughts.


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China-North Korea, Sino-North Korea, Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, North Korea