China on Monday offered its deepest condolences to North Korea on the death of Kim Jong Il, throwing the weight of Beijing's political support behind his son and designated successor, as online comments highlighted fears of growing U.S. influence in the region.
The Central Committee of China's ruling Communist Party vowed to maintain the close relationship with North Korea's largest neighbor and closest political ally in a statement read out on state television.
"We believe the (North Korean) people will carry forward of the will of Comrade Kim Jong Il and closely unite around the Korean Workers' Party, and under the leadership of Comrade Kim Jong Un, turn grief into strength and march forward for building a socialist strong country and realizing a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula," the statement said.
The foreign ministry had earlier issued its condolences and praised the Kim as "a great leader of the North Korean people and a dear friend to the people of China."
However, years of tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, its dependence on international aid to feed a hungry population, the spread of refugees into China and its acts of provocation against South Korea have eroded the goodwill that North Korea once enjoyed in China.
Many people vented frustration and fear of growing U.S. influence in online comments on Monday.Search
A keyword search for "death of Kim Jong Il" carried out on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging service on Monday drew more than 5.7 million posts, while state-run news organizations ran special features on North Korea and Kim after the news broke.
"Condolences to the North Koreans and Long Live the DPRK people," user "People in Peace" commented on the website of the Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily. "Koreans, North and South, should seek joint Peace and Prosperity without US"s interference!!"
User "Admiral Ho" commented on an official Global Times commentary in English: "Washington is the powder keg and detonator [in the region] ... Kim Jong Il and South Korea's Kim Dae-jong started a "Sunshine" policy ... until the Republicans under George W Bush pulled the carpet out from under [them]."
The comment called on northeast and southeast Asians to wake up to U.S. attempts to "divide and conquer" in the region.
Callers to RFA's listener hotlines were skeptical that Kim's death and the succession of power to Kim Jong Un would bring change to the isolated Stalinist state.
"China and North Korea are both dictatorships," said a listener surnamed Xu from the eastern province of Shandong. "I don't think real change will come to North Korea because Kim Jong Un is the designated successor."
A listener surnamed Li from the central province of Hubei said he believed the stability of North Korea would depend on popular reaction to Kim's death, while a listener surnamed She in southern China's Guangdong province called on the United States to overturn the ruling Worker's Party while the regime was still vulnerable.
"[Kim] was one of the main sources of the instability in the world," She said. "The US and her allies should try to kick away the Kim dynasty before his son's power stabilizes."
A fellow Cantonese service listener surnamed Long said he believed great change was now inevitable in the region, while a Zhuhai resident surnamed Zhang agreed, adding: "The biggest possibility is that it will become like China, with the economic reform but still with tight controls on politics."
And a listener surnamed Bao from Inner Mongolia called on the two Koreas to start peace negotiations. "I have seen photos taken by Chinese tourists in North Korea," Bao said. "The people of North Korea live in dire circumstances. I hope North Korea could soon become a democracy."
Influential Global Times editor Hu Xijin said in a microblog post on Monday that North Korea's stability and future direction would now be "put to the test."
"South Korea, the United States and Japan will put every effort into influencing and possibly even terrorising North Korea," Hu wrote on the popular microblogging service Sina Weibo. "China cannot shrink back at such a crucial time."
He said Beijing should protect the special relationship, as it is allied to national interests in the region. "China must help North Korea tread a normal path to prosperous development," Hu wrote in a post that garnered more than 1,400 comments.'Volte-face'
Many supported Hu's view, with user @yiyanyibizhi commenting: "A volte-face in China's direction seems like not a bad choice at this point in time."
However, user @qiluotuodefeishou appeared to disagree, saying that the Korean War (1950-52) was a mistake that China should never have got caught up in.
"The decision to attack South Korea in 1950 on the part of Kim Il Sung was a wrong one. Ever since then...we have continued to make one mistake after another. Hopeless!"
And user @zhaosidelanyanjingtuzi wondered: "Is China itself on a normal path to prosperous development?"
The official Xinhua news agency carried photos of Chinese people with flowers, heading for the North Korean embassy in Beijing, where the flag of the DPRK was flying at half-mast.
Comments on an obituary on the website “Utopia”, the biggest leftist forum on the Chinese Internet, gave a flavor of the strength of support for Pyongyang among a sizeable minority of Maoist thinkers in China.
"Long live a socialist North Korea!!!" user Xiaopu commented on a lengthy obituary extolling Kim Jong Il's contribution to socialism.
"Your article is like a timely rainfall," agreed user tommyhann, while user littmu commented: "Such a great proletarian revolutionary, politician, military commander, diplomat, artist and a great soldier of international communism."
Most commenters echoed the article's deep condolence and grief at the death of Kim, while others were more explicit about the political implications for China.
"Long live Pyongyang, long live national reunification," wrote user franklu321. "May the great friendship between China and North Korea last forever. Let's prepare for a struggle!"
And in a succinct addendum to the string of articles, user turnleft commented: "Long live socialism!"Mao comparison
Prominent Chinese economist Zhao Xiao compared North Koreans' reaction to the death of Kim to that of ordinary Chinese to the death of late supreme leader Mao Zedong in 1976.
"Kim Jong Il is dead! From the point of view of North Koreans, this may be something that is hard to believe, that someone so god-like could actually die," wrote Zhao, whose account numbers more than 2.3 million followers.
"In our country many years ago, a lot of people couldn't believe that Mao could die."
On Twitter, however, which is largely used by rights activists and those campaigning against government censorship, the reaction had a markedly different tone.
Beijing-based rights lawyer Liu Xiaoyuan picked up on claims made in official North Korean media that the Chinese people were distraught at Kim's death: "Kim Jong Il is dead, and my mood is very calm," Liu countered.
And rights lawyer Teng Biao sent out a joke in which a Chinese comedy star and Kim Jong Il are trading boasts. "I can make the whole of China laugh," says the comedian. "That's nothing: I can make the whole world laugh," retorts Kim.Reported by Luisetta Mudie. Additional translations by Jennifer Chou and Shiny Li.