A friend's departure

Updated: 2011-12-20 08:07

By Li Xiaokun and Li Lianxing (China Daily)

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 A friend's departure

Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader Kim Jong-il waves after meeting Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Buryatia, Russia, in this photo taken on Aug 24. Photos by Reuters

 A friend's departure

People in Pyongyang mourn Kim after his death was announced on Monday.

 A friend's departure

The DPRK flag is lowered to half-mast at the embassy in Beijing on Monday.

Condolences sent on the death of Kim Jong-il as DPRK mourns its late leader

BEIJING - China on Monday sent its condolences on the death of the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), vowing long-term friendship with its neighbor.

Pyongyang observers said that Kim Jong-il's death will not result in turbulence in the DPRK and they discounted the possibility of any conflict or escalating tension between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea (ROK).

The DPRK's official KCNA news agency said on Monday that Kim died of a heart ailment on a train at 8:30 am on Saturday due to "great mental and physical strain" during a "high intensity field inspection". He was 69.

The condolence message sent by China said: "We are shocked to learn of Kim's death."

The message - sent by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the National People's Congress Standing Committee, the State Council and the Central Military Commission - called Kim a great leader of the DPRK people and a close friend of the Chinese people.

The message said Kim had dedicated the whole of his life and rendered immortal service to the DPRK's socialist revolution and construction.

It noted that the late DPRK leader had carried on and further developed the traditional friendship between China and the DPRK.

China believed that the DPRK will remain united under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea and Kim Jong-un, Kim's son, and continuously advance toward the goal of building a strong and prosperous socialist nation and achieving sustained peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim's death was announced by state TV in a "special broadcast" from Pyongyang on Monday.

State TV said that the people and the military "have pledged to uphold the leadership of comrade Kim Jong-un", and called him a "great successor".

"All party members, servicepersons and people should remain loyal to the guidance of respected Kim Jong-un and firmly protect and further cement the single-minded unity of the party, the army and the people," the KCNA said in a broadcast.

The ROK's Yonhap News Agency said Pyongyang test-fired a short-range missile on its eastern coast on Monday.

Yonhap said the launch came in the morning, before DPRK state media announced the death of Kim. The last reports of short-range missiles being fired were in June.

Members of staff at Hae Dang Hwa, a famous Korean restaurant in Beijing, were unaware of the news when a China Daily reporter sought their reaction. Upon being told the news waitresses broke down in tears and the restaurant closed.

Kim was a frequent visitor to China, visiting twice this year alone, most recently in August when he stopped off while returning from Russia.

The ROK put its military on high alert. Lee Myung-bak, ROK president, convened a national security council meeting on Monday morning.

Tokyo's government spokesman offered condolences on the passing of Kim, before adding: "The Japanese government hopes that this unexpected development would not bring any adverse impact on the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula".

At the same time the Japanese government held an emergency security meeting.

US President Barack Obama called the ROK's Lee at midnight on the US east coast, vowing to closely monitor events in the DPRK and cooperate.

A US State Department official told AFP that the US national security apparatus buzzed into life late on Sunday night.

Kim's death came as the US administration is expected to decide this week on whether to restart the stalled Six-Party Talks and provide food aid to Pyongyang. Unnamed US officials told the Associated Press that both issues are likely to be delayed.

Officials, requesting anonymity, said the US was particularly concerned about any changes in the military posture of the DPRK and the ROK but were hopeful that calm would prevail.

The AP report quoted the officials as saying that despite Kim's death a scheduled meeting between officials from Washington and Pyongyang in Beijing on Thursday will go ahead but decisions will be delayed.

Jin Canrong, deputy dean of the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China, said Pyongyang may focus on its ties with Beijing and economic opening-up if the DPRK completes the power transfer "with stability and peacefully".

As for the missile launch, Jin said the move aimed to send a clear sign of deterrence, telling the ROK and the US not to take any risky moves that might trigger conflict.

Gary Li, head of current intelligence at Exclusive Analysis, a London-based think tank, told China Daily that Kim's death will "have a very substantial impact on regional security dynamics".

China, the ROK, Japan and the US will "be on high alert as to how Kim Jong-un will handle the reins of power", he said. A destabilized DPRK can destabilize the region, he said.

And in the eyes of Pyongyang, "any sudden military moves, such as the US reinforcing their troops in the ROK, run the risk of being viewed as the US gearing up for an invasion".

Glyn Ford, a close observer of the DPRK, who served five terms as a British member of the European Parliament and visited the country 26 times, told China Daily that this time offers a new opportunity for other countries to strengthen engagement with Pyongyang.

"I think the West needs swift engagement and of course, more patience."

Qin Zhongwei in Beijing, Liu Ce in Shenyang, Fu Jing in Brussels, Zhang Haizhou in London and agencies contributed to this story.

China Daily

(China Daily 12/20/2011 page1)