China clearly wants reform in North Korea. There have been various signs of its alarm over North Korea's unpredictable military policy. And the thought that its economy might simply implode, perhaps unleashing a wave of millions of refugees across North Korea's borders, is deeply disturbing to the Chinese leadership.
If Kim Jong-il's health is indeed failing fast, this may explain why an apparently wide-ranging reshuffle of the leadership structure has emerged. In the space of a few hours his son, Kim Jong-un, who has no military or political experience whatever, became a four-star general, deputy chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party, and a member of the Central Committee.
To bolster his position, the younger Kim's aunt, Kim Kyong-hui, was also made a general, as well as a member of the politburo. Her husband, Chang Song-taek, is head of the National Defense Commission, and is usually regarded as the power behind the throne. Most of the seats on the politburo have been empty for years; it is possible they may now slowly be filled.
Behind this may lie a determined effort to assert the control of the Workers' Party over the military, who have traditionally been the leading power in North Korea.
If that is so, it seems likely that the hand of China lies behind much of this. The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, rather than the foreign ministry, seems to be in charge of China's policy towards North Korea.
There have been clear signs that China would like North Korea to develop in very much the same way as China itself did in the 1970s and 80s, leading to the rampant and highly successful state-controlled capitalism of recent years.