Well-placed Chinese observers agree. “I do not see a big impact on regional security because the personnel situation is under control” since Kim Jong-il announced last year that his son would succeed him, argues Liu Xuecheng, a Korea expert at the China Institute for International Studies, a think tank in Beijing linked to the Foreign Ministry.
At the same time, Professor Liu points out, “power is still concentrated in the military,” which will continue to exert significant influence over North Korean policy, while Pyongyang’s key neighbors – China and Russia – have both indicated their support for the young Kim.
China is especially concerned that its maverick protégé does not get out of hand. “Collapse and chaos would be a worst-case scenario” for Beijing, whose “basic policy is to secure the Korean peninsula’s security and political stability,” says Cai Jian, a North Korea expert at Fudan University in Shanghai.
The prickly North Korean government has long sought to keep Beijing at arm’s length, but in its current dire economic straits, “they will need China more than ever” to see them through the power transition, suggests Scott Snyder, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.