NORTH Korea is now seen as such a major threat even its historic ally China is working on a plot to assassinate despot Kim Jong-un, in an attempt to avert a nuclear war it has been revealed.
North Korea’s war-hungry leader Kim has set alarm bells ringing from Washington to Seoul this year with a series of provocative missile launches and nuclear tests – and now even Beijing is sitting up and taking notice.
Despite a long-standing alliance, China is growing increasingly concerned at its hermit state neighbour, with fears growing at an all-out war between North Korea and its Western enemies.
A huge war would end with a wave of refugees from North Korea into China, as well as positioning soldiers and officials from their superpower rival America on their doorstep.
It was claimed yesterday Beijing could be seeking a change in leadership in Pyongyang to help “defuse the current crisis”.
Now the Daily Star Online has revealed China is so concerned it is considering ways in which Kim can be assassinated and replaced – possibly by a member of his family.
Professor Malcolm Chalmers, a defence expert from the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), told Daily Star Online China wants a North Korean regime change.
Prof Chalmers said: “China has been trying to find another member of the Kim family to replace him – which has of course enraged him.
“China are interested more in personnel change rather than regime change.”
Communist China has traditionally been North Korea’s closest ally, but Kim’s continued nuclear and ballistic missile tests have tested Beijing’s patience.
Professor Chalmers, from security think tank RUSI, added China would prefer a leader who is “more deferential to Chinese interest, especially on the nuclear file”.
But he admitted even removing Kim would probably not lead to the total denuclearisation of North Korea.
He said: “It would be hard for a North Korean leader to entirely bow down to China.”
North Korea was hit with a fresh round of sanctions earlier this month as punishment for its repeated – and widely condemned – long-range missile tests.
The latest sanctions blocked limiting oil, gas and petrol imports, with previous measures banning the north from exporting some of its biggest cash sources, such as seafood and lead.
In response, the North branded the penalties “a brutal criminal act” by the United States.
North Korean state-run media issued a statement saying: “The colossal amount of damage caused by these sanctions to the development of our state and the people’s livelihood is beyond anyone’s calculation.