About five years ago, China focused on extracting mineral resources from North Korea.
But the latest nuclear saber rattling by Kim 3.0 has pushed China's leaders into greater recognition of their failure to sway the youngest Kim.
"The latest escapades by the North — predominantly political theater for domestic purposes but potentially very dangerous — appear to be altering the balance of opinion in Beijing," said Jonathan Pollack, director of the China center at the Brookings Institution. "This issue has been the subject of intermittent Chinese debate since the time of North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006, but for the first time, leaders are beginning to acknowledge that the notion of North Korea as a strategic asset is laughable, even if they have yet to fully figure out what to do about it."
China's new president, Xi Jinping, has signaled that shift. Nearly a decade ago, Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao told Kim Jong Il, who died in 2011, that their relations were "firm as a monolith."
But on March 7, China backed tighter United Nations sanctions. On April 6, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that "Beijing opposes any provocative words and actions from any party in the region and does not allow troublemaking at the doorsteps of China."
An April 10 editorial in the state-run People's Daily defended North Korea's right to pursue its own domestic policies and bolster its military forces without foreign interference. But it drew the line at a nuclear or missile test. Such sensitive editorials are often penned by senior government officials.
North Korea "is accountable for the escalating intensive situation in the peninsula," the newspaper said, and "if the choice and words of Democratic People's Republic of Korea . . . influence the peace and stability of the region, it becomes an international issue. We can't let the DPRK do whatever it wants."
Chu said, "I think Chinese tolerance is coming to an end."
That's certainly true among the Chinese chatting online, and their language is blunt.
"Once [Kim] draws people's attention, he will make unreasonable requests and act shamelessly, asking for candy," said Zhanbo Weide, who said China should "beat" Kim "and deliver him to his aunt in South Korea for some strict education."