China reaches out to 'Great Successor' by pledging support

US treads cautious line as North Koreans mourn for Kim Jong-il

Beijing

As North Korea began an 11-day period of mourning for its late leader, Kim Jong-il, whose death at the weekend was announced on Monday, its neighbours and the United States continued yesterday to tread a cautious line between condolence and containment with some gentle coaxing on the need for regional stability.

After pondering options for 24 hours, South Korea decided not to send an official delegation to Pyongyang to pay respects but did voice condolence.

In a statement issued in Washington, the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made no direct mention of Kim's passing but said the US hopes to see a "peaceful and stable transition".

The US response found echoes in China, which, like South Korea, is anxious that the ascent of the heir-apparent, Kim Jong-un, does not usher in a period of unpredictability either as a result of political rivalries emerging in Pyongyang or because the new leader tries to flex some unwelcome diplomatic muscle on the world stage.

President Hu Jintao yesterday offered China's formal condolences in an early morning visit to the North Korean embassy compound in Beijing. Mr Hu was keen to assure its communist ally, which largely subsists on Chinese oil and food handouts, of its strong support amid an uncertain leadership transition, and the Chinese government later said that the "Great Successor", the young and inexperienced Kim Jong-un, would be welcome to visit China.

Beijing's official message of condolence was heavy on the Marxist-Leninist acronyms, reinforcing the close ideological links between China and North Korea. The flag flew at half-mast in the embassy compound. The Chinese state broadcaster showed a sombre Mr Hu bowing in mourning. He was accompanied by Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is tipped to replace him at the helm of the Communist Party next year.

"We are confident that the people of North Korea will carry on the task bequeathed by Comrade Kim Jong-il, and closely unify around the Korean Workers' Party, and under Comrade Kim Jong-un turn their anguish into strength," Mr Hu said in his condolence remarks.

"Co-operative relations between China and North Korea are the immutable and unwavering guiding policy of China's party and government."

The dynastic passing of power may be untimely for the US which had hopes of bringing Pyongyang back to the table for six-party talks on its nuclear weapons ambitions. Washington had recently signalled its willingness to resume shipments of humanitarian aid to the country if it undertook to end its uranium enrichment activities. That progress is now at risk with little known about what stance Kim Jong-un will take to the outside world.

"The sudden death of Kim Jong-il has plunged the isolated state of North Korea into a period of major uncertainty. There are real concerns that heir-apparent Kim Jong-un has not had sufficient time to form the necessary alliances in the country to consolidate his future as leader of the country," said Sarah McDowall, of IHS, a global affairs consultancy in Colorado.

Politicians were eager to stick to a more diplomatic assessment of the current situation, however. "It is our hope that the new leadership will choose to guide their nation on to the path of peace by honouring North Korea's commitments, improving relations with its neighbours, and respecting the rights of its people," Mrs Clinton said in a statement.

"The United States stands ready to help the North Korean people and urges the new leadership to work with the international community to usher in a new era of peace, prosperity and lasting security on the Korean peninsula."

As Mr Hu was paying his respects, there was a flurry of diplomatic activity in Beijing. China's Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, spoke with his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-Hwan, as well as with Mrs Clinton, amid concerns that Kim Jong-il's death could lead to a vacuum. At a parking spot nearby, a group of North Koreans, wearing black suits and sporting their national flag on their lapels, got out of their car, their faces puffy with grief and their eyes red from crying.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Howard Marks has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, he has announced
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
Rowan Atkinson at the wheel of his McLaren F1 GTR sports car
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us