China Monitors Assassination Probe Of North Korean Kim Jong Nam China is debating how to react to the death of Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korea's leader. Some think that the dead man could potentially have headed a more China-friendly North Korean regime.

China Monitors Assassination Probe Of North Korean Kim Jong Nam

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

North Korea's ambassador to Malaysia said today that a man killed at the Kuala Lumpur Airport last week was not the half brother of North Korea's dictator. North Korea's neighbor, China, is one of many countries trying to figure out just what's going on. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Kim Jong Nam's apparent assassination has triggered a debate in China about what it means and how to respond. Many Chinese support their longtime ally, and they don't believe that Kim Jong Un would have ordered a hit on his half brother. On the other side are people like commentator and former journalist Deng Yuwen. He argues that decades of supporting North Korea has been a losing deal for China and the assassination of Kim Jong Nam is the perfect opportunity for Beijing to cut its losses.

DENG YUWEN: (Through interpreter) In the past, whatever North Korea did, China would pick up the tab for it. The cost was huge, but the payoff was next to nothing.

KUHN: The biggest cost of all, of course, was the roughly half a million Chinese troops killed or wounded defending the North in the Korean War. Deng says Beijing may also be unhappy about Kim Jong Nam's assassination. Kim lived in Beijing for several years beginning in the mid-1990s. And Deng argues that he could potentially have headed an alternative North Korean government, one that might have been more liberal and China-friendly than his half brother's. That, Deng says, would likely have been Kim Jong Un's motive in getting rid of his sibling.

DENG: (Through interpreter) If, after the collapse of North Korea, China wanted to establish a stable, new regime, then Kim Jong Nam would obviously have been a card for China to play.

KUHN: Deng Yuwen says Beijing would never admit to contemplating its neighbor's collapse. Deng's criticism of North Korea got him fired from his job in 2013, as an editor at a Communist party newspaper. But Deng notes that on Saturday, China announced that it was banning all coal imports from North Korea for the rest of the year. Beijing says the ban is related to U.N. sanctions. But Deng says the timing of the announcement suggests that Beijing may have been signaling its displeasure at the killing of Kim Jong Nam.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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