IT is less than two weeks since China's role in brokering unofficial contacts between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its refusal to allow International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection of its nuclear facilities, raised hopes that Beijing would put pressure on its former ally and take a more constructive role in curbing the spread of nuclear weapons. Sadly, those assessments proved wildly optimistic. Far from reining in its former client state, Beijing has opposed both international sanctions against North Korea and is set against bringing the matter to the Security Council. Although China was unable to prevent the IAEA voting to urge the Security Council to intervene, it is still capable of vetoing any tougher action. Even without a veto, as North Korea's neighbour and major supplier, China's co-operation is vital to the success of any sanctions effort. Beijing does not endorse Pyongyang's position. However it does not approve of international interference in internal affairs and sees in its influence over Pyongyang a powerful diplomatic weapon against what it believes is a Western conspiracy against itself. China's failure to act as a responsible member of the international community in curbing North Korea could provide the United States with the excuse it needs to attach conditions to renewal of China's Most Favoured Nation status, or indeed to revoke it altogether. An unco-operative stance over North Korea could also heighten international support for Britain's policies in Hongkong. The converse is also true: if the US and Britain want Beijing's co-operation in the Security Council they may have to pay for it with less confrontational China policies. That message was well understood in both London and Washington during the Gulf War,when the West went out of its way to woo Beijing. The next few days should be interesting. If China agrees to abstain rather than exercise a veto in any North Korea sanctions vote, British capitulation and American silence in the struggle to increase democracy in Hongkong may be part of the price.