Some Chinese officials do not regard North Korea as a useful ally and would not intervene if the reclusive state collapsed, according to leaked US State Department cables.
In one cable by the US ambassador to Seoul, a top South Korean official is described as saying North Korea already has collapsed economically and would fall apart politically within two or three years of the death of leader Kim Jong-il.
Chun Yung-woo, then the vice foreign minister for South Korea, made the assessments in February. He is now national security advisor to South Korea's president.
Chun said the younger generation of Communist leaders in China did not regard North Korea as a useful or reliable ally and would not risk a renewal of armed conflict on the Korean peninsula.
Those younger Chinese leaders, Chun said, "would be comfortable with a reunited Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a benign alliance," both newspapers quoted the cables as saying.
But some analysts were skeptical: "My personal advice is that the report has been misplaced," said Wang Dong, an international relations professor at Peking University. "North Korea is a strategic question for China, not a financial or economic one. They've made a mistake about China's viewpoint."
The cables about China and North Korea are among more than 250,000 obtained by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. US officials declined to comment directly on the material.