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China doubtful of N.Korea as ally: U.S. cables

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some Chinese officials do not regard North Korea as a useful ally and would not intervene if the reclusive state collapsed, according to leaked U.S. State Department cables published by several newspapers.

In one cable by the U.S. 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, according to The Guardian and The New York Times. He is now national security advisor to South Korea’s president.

The cables about China and North Korea are among more than 250,000 obtained by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks and provided first to a small number of news outlets. U.S. officials declined to comment directly on the material.

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.”

U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens wrote that Chun cited private conversations with two high-level Chinese officials who “believed Korea should be unified under ROK (South Korea) control,” said The Guardian.

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, it reported.

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.

According to The Guardian, Chun said China had much less influence over North Korea than is commonly thought. A senior Chinese official also was quoted in a cable as saying China’s influence was overestimated.

In April 2009, He Yafei, then China’s vice foreign minister, told a U.S. diplomat in Beijing that North Korea acted like a “spoiled child” to attract U.S. attention through steps such as firing a three-stage rocket over Japan.

The New York Times reported that a senior Chinese diplomat, Wu Jianghoa, said the ailing Kim was using nuclear tests and missile launchings as part of a plan to put his third son, Kim Jong-un, in place as his successor.

Writing by Charles Abbott; Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Editing by John O’Callaghan