A leading international expert at one of China's top universities predicts that North Korea will not improve relations with South Korea while Lee Myung-bak is still president of the south.
Yan Xuetong says that's because of Lee's abandonment of the "Sunshine policy" of economic engagement with the isolationist Communist state and his tough approach to Pyongyang.
Yan, who is dean of the Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University, said this means North Korean officials will be "very patient" and will wait to engage with South Korea's next president in two years when Lee's term ends.
Speaking at a panel Wednesday at the World Economic Forum, Yan said China's main concern is to avoid war on the Korean peninsula and ensure stability.
"So at this moment, from my understanding, our policy is very clear _ try to stabilize the (Korean) relationship and prevent any military clashes," Yan said.
"The question is how should we make this region peaceful?" he said. "That's why we strongly support the Sunshine policy because the Sunshine policy can keep (the) North and South at peace."
Tensions on the Korean peninsula remain high following the North's Nov. 23 artillery attack on South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island near their disputed sea border killed two marines and two civilians, and the March sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors. A South Korean-led international investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo for the sinking but Pyongyang denies involvement.
The North has made a recent push for talks to ease hostility, but Yan was wary of a major breakthrough.
"North Korea knows there's no hope to improve the relationship with the South, so they're waiting for the next president," he said. "North Korea is very determined to prepare to improve the relationship after Lee Myung-bak."
Yan said North Korea doesn't have democracy but it does have order and the society is very stable.
He said South Korea thinks the Sunshine police "can topple the North and change it."
"From the North's part, they know that policy won't work," he said. "So they're for the South to continue the Sunshine policy because they can benefit from the economic aid."
Inter-Korean relations have also been complicated by a power transition under way in the North, where leader Kim Jong Il is believed to be grooming his youngest son Kim Jong Un to succeed him. Some analysts say the ship sinking and the artillery attack were carried out to display the younger Kim's mettle to North Korea's military and bolster his legitimacy as the next leader.
When asked about Kim Jong Un's possible succession, Yan said "as long as Kim Jong Il can survive, that country will continue and will maintain order."
"No one can make the prediction whether his son can successfully continue this regime," he said.