BEIJING - China has lost its key North Korean interlocutor with the purging of Kim Jong-Un's uncle, but analysts say the young leader's tightening grip on power may be welcomed by Beijing, which prizes stability in its wayward nuclear-armed ally.
Jang Song-Thaek was the second-most powerful member of North Korea's regime and an important link between Pyongyang and Beijing before his dramatic ouster last week, accused of being a corrupt, drug-using womaniser.
In the two years since the death of Kim Jong-Il, at least four of the seven leaders who joined the younger Kim in marching alongside his father's hearse at the funeral - a core leadership group dubbed the "Gang of Seven" by South Korean media - have now reportedly been sidelined, with further military and political purges likely.
"In a sense, the Chinese interlocutors in the core North Korean leadership just evaporated," said Jingdong Yuan, a University of Sydney professor specialising in Chinese defence and foreign policy.
"Now, who will be the intermediary between Beijing and Pyongyang?" Yuan asked.
But while Beijing was watching the purges with concern, he said, the end result will benefit China if Kim succeeds in cementing his authority.
"In one sense, obviously, if he can consolidate power, at least there's the known factor," Yuan said. "The uncertainty is what China does not want to see."
China is the North's sole major ally and economic lifeline - it sold the North almost 450,000 tonnes of oil in the first 10 months of this year, according to customs figures.
Jang has played a key role in links between the two nations, which fought alongside each other at enormous loss of life during the 1950-53 Korean War. The 67-year-old accompanied Kim's father and predecessor Kim Jong-Il on three trips to China in 2010 and 2011 and is known to have led the country's Commission for Joint Venture and Investment tasked with attracting foreign investments - mostly from China.
He was also the first high-level party official to visit China after the younger Kim took power in December 2011.
Jang was in charge of the North's mineral exports - which account for more than half its outbound trade with China - and has been accused of selling iron at overly cheap prices.