The core US policy for bringing about denuclearization via negotiation seems to be increasingly out of reach given North Korea’s renewed determination to institutionalize and legitimize its nuclear status. China’s role as sole guarantor is based on its own security assessments and its belief that North Korea is stable enough to resist outside pressure with its help, and provide a comfortable buffer zone. Conversely, officials in Washington, DC, have always been primarily concerned with the implications of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. The strong US-South Korean rhetorical and military response served as a reminder to Beijing that condoning the behaviour risked destabilizing escalation. Thus, an uneasy and combustible status quo remains in post-Kim Jong Il North-East Asia with the Korean Peninsula at its focal point. China subordinates denuclearization to regime security, while the USA will pursue denuclearization even at the risk of regime change, and the result is that China shields the North from international pressure and US-led coercion.