China is watching events in North Korea nervously, first in line to feel the effects of developments in its unpredictable, isolated ally.
As Kim Jong-il’s funeral took place, there was tight security at the North Korean embassy in Beijing, where the flag flew at half-mast.
China has been urged by Japan to assume a big role in ensuring North Korea avoids volatility, and to share information about unfolding events.
The reaction in Beijing to Kim Jong-il’s death and its aftermath has been polite and respectful.
“It’s a shame that Kim Jong-il died. I was touched when I saw the North Korean people crying so sadly over his death. I was very moved,” said one young woman, adding that the scenes were reminiscent of the deaths of previous Chinese leaders.
“We send our sincere sympathy. We express our condolences over Kim Jong-il’s death. We would also like to send our sympathy for the North Korean people. We hope North Korea can march along the path towards peaceful and stable development,” said a middle-aged Chinese man.
Amid much uncertainty surrounding the regime’s new leadership, few see signs of a Pyongyang Spring.
Japan, whose prime minister has just visited Beijing, and China are both emphasising the need for stability.
“There are certainly people who would like to take this opportunity to undermine the current North Korean regime, but it will be very hard because the opposition or any kind of dissidents have been severely cracked down (on) in the country in the past,” said Japanese analyst Narushige Michishita, from the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
Wary of a potential flood of refugees crossing the border to the south should anything go wrong, China has a pivotal role to play in North Korea’s immediate future.