Has North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un finally fallen out of favour with Big Brother China? Media reports say there has been avid chatter in Chinese scholastic circles about a possible move to remove the communist despot.
Chinese policymakers have started talking about the possibilities of a plan involving the US and South Korea that would ease the decades-old communist dynasty out of power in the largely impoverished but heavily militarized Asian country.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited a prominent Chinese academic saying that mainland scholars and policy makers have begun talk about supporting 'surgical strikes' and 'decapitation' by the US and South Korea as a policy option."
Dr Sun Zhe, co-director of the China Initiative at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, said the change in sentiment in China was triggered by the repeated nuclear tests Pyongyang conducted in recent times.
Sun Zhe says an article that appeared in Chinese Communist party mouthpiece Global Times discussed the possibility of Beijing making contributions to "destroying the nuclear capability" of North Korea.
"More radical proposals indicate that China should change the leader, send troops across borders and station in DPRK, force DPRK into giving up nuclear and beginning opening up and reforming," the expert said.
"The consensus of the debate is to maintain the stability of the North Korean regime, expressed in the '3 Nos' policy (no war, no nuclear, no chaos). The most controversial issue is how big a price China should pay for supporting the Kim Jong Un regime," Sun Zhe added.
North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test on September 9, setting off a blast that was more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, and said it had mastered the ability to mount a warhead on a ballistic missile.
Days later, South Korea's Defence Ministry said that North Korea was ready to conduct an additional nuclear test at any time.
"Assessment by South Korean and U.S. intelligence is that the North is always ready for an additional nuclear test in the Punggye-ri area," South Korean Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-gyun said.
China, which is Pyongyang's biggest ally and trading partner, has been getting increasingly frustrated over the reclusive regime's unbridled nuclear aspirations. Repeated nuclear tests and missile experiments have compelled Beijing to support the increasingly tough UN sanctions over North Kore3a.