Chinese vice-premier to visit DPRK, ROK

Updated: 2011-10-22 09:06

By Wu Jiao (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Vice-Premier Li Keqiang's impending visit to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) will strengthen bilateral ties and help the peninsula move closer to the resumption of the Six-Party Talks, analysts said.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday that Li will pay an official visit to the DPRK from Sunday to Tuesday at the invitation of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea and the DPRK government, followed by a visit to the ROK on Wednesday and Thursday as a guest of the ROK government.

It is rare for a Chinese leader to visit the two countries back-to-back, said diplomatic sources, stressing that the visits will strengthen ties.

The visits also come at a time when positive momentum has been shown toward the resumption of the Six-Party Talks as the second round of talks between the DRPK and the United States will start next week.

Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun told reporters on Thursday that Li's visits will help safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, which is to China's northeast.

The region is of strategic importance to China's security, given the shared border between China and the DPRK.

During the visits, Li will hold talks and meetings with leaders of both countries, focus on improving bilateral relations, and address international and regional issues of mutual concern, the Foreign Ministry said.

"We believe the visit will advance China's relations with the two countries," Zhang said.

According to Wang Junsheng, an expert on Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the arrangement for a Chinese leader to visit the two countries within such a short timeframe is unusual. However, it shows that China has played a significant role in maintaining strong ties with the DPRK and the ROK at the same time.

Wang added that economic cooperation and trade will be focus of the visits to the two countries, as China now ranks as the top trading partner for both.

New joint projects between China and the DPRK have been launched, including the construction of a new bridge on the Yalu River and the establishment of two economic development zones in Liaoning and Jilin provinces.

Strong trade ties also link the ROK with China, which accounts for a quarter of the ROK's foreign trade, making China its top trading partner and importer.

The ROK news agency Chosun Ilbo reported that Li will be accompanied by an 80-member trade delegation during his ROK tour, which includes a speech by Li during a luncheon with the major trade bodies.

He will meet with ROK President Lee Myung-bak, National Assembly Speaker Park Hee-tae and Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik.

Regarding the situation on the Korean Peninsula, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said China, as a regional neighbor and a friend of the DPRK and the ROK, sincerely supports North-South cooperation to improve ties and seek reconciliation and expects the peninsula to realize and maintain lasting peace and stability.

China has maintained close communication and provided consultations for the DPRK, the ROK and other relevant parties on easing the situation and pushing the Six-Party Talks forward.

Launched in 2003, the six parties include China, the DPRK, the US, the ROK, Japan and Russia. The talks have been suspended since December 2008.

Wang from CASS said Li will continue to play an essential role on resolving the peninsula conflict.

"With the major parties - including the US and China - playing active roles, the Six-Party Talks has a high possibility of resumption," Wang said.

US officials said on Wednesday that they would meet with DPRK counterparts on Monday in Geneva and named a full-time envoy on DPRK affairs.

This came as DPRK leader Kim Jong-il stressed his country was ready to resume the long-stalled Six-Party Talks, though only without preconditions.

The Korea Times also reported on Thursday that the flurry of diplomacy over the DPRK's nuclear program is cautiously inching regional players closer to resuming long-stalled multilateral negotiations.

"Conditions are getting better to expect a resumption of negotiations," Yoo Ho-yeol, an expert at Korea University, was quoted by the Korea Times as saying.

"Kim's remark was a positive signal from Pyongyang and Washington is showing it is dealing with Six-Party Talks as an important issue."

Zhao Shengnan contributed to this story.