The Telegraph has details of the supposed plan, which in the hypothetical situation of a regime collapse meant detaining key North Korean officials for monitoring and protection, creating refugee camps for those fleeing the country and increasing security along the 879-mile border.
It didn't take long for China's foreign ministry to dismiss the report, telling state media the story was"groundless and with ulterior motives." (Via Xinhua / Global Times)
A North Korean analyst in Seoul told The Guardian though he doesn't believe China's denial, he cautions against reading too much into the idea China might have such a backup plan. "The PLA is doing what militaries do — they draw up contingencies. But we shouldn't draw too many conclusions from this."
In any event, it's easy to see why the story gained so much ground. China has been increasingly frustrated with its unpredictable neighbor in recent years.
Things started to unravel after North Korea's third nuclear test last year, leading China to join the international community in condemnation. (Via CNN)
Then came the execution of Kim's uncle and reports Chinese officials were caught off guard and ordered increased border security in response. (Via Euronews)
Daniel Sneider of Stanford's Asia-Pacific Research Center told the Council on Foreign Relations in February China sees Pyongyang as a liability: "The North Koreans are a huge problem for them, because Pyongyang could trigger a war on its own. ...The Chinese are most concerned about the collapse of North Korea leading to chaos on the border."
South Korea recently reported it had detected increased activity at North Korea's main nuclear testing site — suggesting the North preparing for its fourth nuclear test. In response, President Barack Obama raised the possibility of further sanctions.