DPRK leader believed to have toured industrial zone, met local officials in Dalian
Beijing - The top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong-il reportedly toured an industrial zone and met local officials in northeastern China during the second day of his close-lipped visit to the nation on Tuesday, with economic development and inter-Korea relations high on his agenda.
The Republic of Korea (ROK) based Yonhap News reported that Kim entered China by a 17-carriage train on Monday and spent the night in Dalian, a northeast port city known as a model of market reforms.
He was found to have traveled to a development project area, some 30 kilometers from Dalian, and inspected a port under construction there.
Japanese and ROK media then reported he left Dalian by highway around 4 pm, and headed for the city of Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province that borders DPRK. Kim was believed to travel to Beijing during the following days to meet his Chinese counterparts.
Neither Beijing nor Pyongyang has confirmed Kim's latest reported trip abroad, the first one in years, while China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu sidestepped the questions on Kim's visit, saying only that "China and the DPRK have a tradition of high-level visits."
However, apart from economic ties, the visit has evoked keen interest due to increasing tensions after the sinking of a ROK naval vessel in March and the deterioration of inter-Korean relations, especially on whether the visit would provide an opportunity to resume the stalled Six-Party Talks.
Kim Yong-hyun, a DPRK expert at Dongguk University, was quoted by Chosun IIbo as saying, "The DPRK's main interest is in economic assistance from China, and China's top priority is to set a date for DPRK to return to the Six-Party Talks and reaffirm Pyongyang's willingness to scrap its nuclear weapons."
"I think Kim's visit is to discuss ways to cooperate in the near future with China, especially in regard to economic ties between the two countries, the Six-Party Talks and the Cheonan (ship sinking) incident," Guardian quoted Yang Moo-jin, a professor at ROK's University of North Korean Studies, as saying.
While expectations were high that the visit would rekindle the stalled Six-Party Talks on the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the Cheonan incident could scuttle the resumption of the talks, analysts have warned.
On Tuesday, ROK President Lee Myung-bak ordered a thorough review of his country's military readiness, calling the sinking of the warship not a "simple accident" as officials inched closer to blaming the DPRK for the deadly incident.
ROK also called on China Tuesday to play a "responsible role" in resolving tensions that have deepened on the Korean Peninsula since the sinking of the warship near the border with DPRK on March 26.
According to Da Wei, a scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, though the ROK media has played up the Cheonan incident during Kim's visit, the issue might not overtake economic ties and the nuclear non-proliferation issue to top the discussion agenda of the two leaders.
"Before any concrete proof comes out of the investigation, China will surely remain neutral and not take sides," Da said.
Da, however, warned that the Cheonan incident would inevitably disrupt the process of rekindling the Six-Party Talks, as Seoul and the US has linked the talks to the warship sinking investigation.
Seoul had long hoped Kim's trip to China would lead to the DPRK's return to the negotiation table aimed at ending its nuclear project.
However, Seoul now says it will not agree to resume talks until it finds the exact cause of the recent tragedy, a stance which the US has also taken.
The Six-Party Talks bring together DPRK, ROK, China, the US, Japan and Russia.
"The binding of the Cheonan issue and Six-Party Talks has caused a great change in the process to restart the talks," Da said.
Chinese experts have also said that economic cooperation is on top of the agenda during Kim's visit.
Since Kim has pledged to make DPRK a strong country by 2012, and has launched several economic reforms since last year, China should be the most important partner to provide foreign investment, according to Da Wei.
Investment will be a key and new part of the leadership meeting, which is mainly to implement a principle reached between the two countries while Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visited DPRK last year, said Cheng Xiaohe, a scholar with the Beijing-based Renmin University of China.
"While economic aid is just an old practice, investment into DPRK will surely help the country acquire more capacity to develop," said Cheng.
(China Daily 05/05/2010 page11)