North Korea Nuke Test Challenges Xi at Crucial Period

North Korea’s sixth nuclear test on September 3 took place just hours before Xi Jinping addressed leaders of BRICS countries in the southeastern Chinese city of Xiamen.

In May, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un also tested a ballistic missile before Xi gave a speech to world leaders in Beijing about his “Belt and Road” project.

Context: Kim’s latest nuclear provocation happens to follow Xi’s recent efforts to shake up personnel in the Central Military Commission (CMC), China’s top military governing organ. According to our information channels, three top generals in the CMC (PLA Chief of Joint Staff Fang Fenghui; CMC Political Work Department head Zhang Yang; former PLA Navy commander Wu Shengli) are currently being investigated on corruption charges.

Why it matters: The most recent North Korea nuclear test is a challenge to Xi by Kim and his Chinese political backers, who are Xi’s factional rivals.

Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has targeted many members and supporters of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin’s influential political faction, and the Chinese military has long been controlled by the Jiang faction.

Meanwhile, Jiang faction elites and the Kim family have long established warm personal ties. Xi, however, has never met Kim in person and disdains him.