China has been engaging in diplomatic pleasantries with North Korea (DPRK) this week in anticipation of the 65th anniversary of the latter, which falls tomorrow. There is currently a PRC delegation in Pyongyang (being headed up by Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang), and the DPRK's embassy in Beijing has been hosting receptions to commemorate the event.
These various exchanges come within the context of the recent leadership changes in the Worker's Party of Korea, which have seen Kim Jong-un (one of Kim Jong-il's sons) promoted to senior party and military positions. The senior Kim had previously made a trip to China with the intention (it is widely speculated) of securing the CCP's backing for his 'keep it in the family' succession plan, in the face of likely opposition to Kim Jong-un from some of North Korea's generals when the handover is implemented.
The People's Republic has used this week's activities to signal its support for Kim Jong-un's 'helicoptering' to power. In Pyongyang, Zhou Yongkang expressed his belief that (to quote Xinhua) “the new leadership of the WPK will surely lead the DPRK people to create a new situation and make new achievements in the course of building a strong country”. Zhou also stressed the longevity and positive nature of China's relations with North Korea, calling for a further deepening of ties. The comments were echoed in an address made by Vice-President Xi Jinping during a reception at the DPRK's embassy in Beijing, with Xi expressing the PRC's willingness to “join hands” with the newly elected WPK leadership. There can be little doubt that both senior leaders were referring cryptically to the promotion of Kim Jong-un, and his father will have cause to take heart from the comments.
China's readiness to throw its weight behind such a politically inexperienced operator as the younger Kim reflects the fact that, in many ways, a smooth handover of the reigns in North Korea would be a more desirable outcome than several contenders all vying for the 'throne'. If the latter were to happen, the politics of the Korean Peninsula would be further destabilised, to the detriments of internal efforts (by countries including the PRC) to diffuse tensions in the region. If Kim Jong-un's accession is dependent on the CCP's backing, this will make it much easier for Beijing to put pressure on North Korea to end its isolation from the world community.