The balance of risk between reform and chaos dominated arguments within China's ruling elite. The Chinese have also permitted an astonishing range of vituperative internet comment about an ally with which Beijing maintains a treaty of friendship and co-operation. Academic Wu Jianguo published an article in a Singapore newspaper - available online in China - bluntly saying: "I suggest China should make an end of Kim's Government."
"The Chinese have given up on Kim Jong-il," commented one diplomat. "The question is, what are they going to do about it?"
Hinting at the options, Chinese online military commentators have exposed plots and purges inside North Korea that were previously unknown or unconfirmed. They have described three attempted coups that ended in bloodshed. In 1996, the Sixth Field Army was planning to revolt but the scheme was betrayed by a new commander. One or two plotters got away but Kim Jong-il's personal guards arrested senior officers and the Sixth Field Army's political commissars.