Hwang Jang-yup, a former secretary of the North Korean Worker's Party who fled to South Korea in 1997, reportedly said that if Seoul had a free trade agreement with Beijing, China would not recklessly interfere if North Korea collapses.
Hwang said China is chiefly interested in economic profits, and China holds the key to all North Korean issues, so if Seoul and Beijing grow closer, it could be possible to persuade North Korea to open up and reform in the way China has.
Hwang said Kim Jong-nam, Kim Jong-il's eldest son, was likely to inherit power, considering that the Chinese government has looked after him and Chang Song-taek, Kim Jong-il’s brother-in-law who heads administrative affairs at the North Korean Workers' Party, is supporting him.
Chang fell out of favor with Kim Jong-il in 2004 but made a comeback in 2006. Since then, he has been in charge of powerful agencies such as the Ministry of Public Security and the State Security Department, the People’s Safety Agency and the prosecutors' offices.
In a post-Kim Jong-il era, freed from the personality cult, North Korean leaders are likely to open up and reform along Chinese lines, Hwang said, and with time, North Korea will naturally achieve democratization. However, the senior defector warned of Chinese resistance if South Korea or the U.S. aggressively intervene during the transition period in North Korea.
Hwang said, "Even if Kim dies, there will be neither civil war nor anarchy, because his close aides have already established themselves in key positions and they are in the same boat."