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President Hu underscores China's role with N.Korea visit
Updated: 2005-10-29 09:09

Chinese President Hu Jintao got a bear hug from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il after arriving in North Korea on Friday on a visit that underscores China's role in persuading Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs.

The trip, ahead of a new round of six-party nuclear talks, follows a flurry of Chinese diplomatic overtures to North Korea -- Vice-Premier Wu Yi met Kim earlier this month and Li Bin, a Chinese diplomat responsible for Korean affairs, went last week.

"Hu ... voiced his belief that under Kim's leadership, the DPRK people will score greater accomplishment in exploring a development path suited to its own conditions and building a strong and prosperous country," Xinhua news agency said of his statement delivered at Pyongyang airport.

Thousands of people, many waving fake flowers and dressed in colorful traditional Korean robes, lined the streets, dancing, singing and chanting slogans as Hu's motorcade wove through the capital. It was his first visit there as president.

The United States has piled pressure on China to try to use its position as North Korea's closest ally and key aid provider to keep it at the table and ensure some results at the next round of six-party talks.

"Hu Jintao's visit is in part to encourage a breakthrough at this very important moment," said Shi Yinhong of the People's University of China. "China wants North Korea to show more flexibility."

The visit greases the wheels for North Korea to make concessions at the fifth round of talks likely to open in Beijing on November 8. Kim reaffirmed to Hu that his country would participate in the round, Chinese state television reported.

The challenge now is to begin implementing a landmark joint statement agreed at the last session in September.

North Korea agreed in the document to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs and rejoin the Non-Proliferation Treaty in exchange for aid and better ties with Washington and Tokyo.

On Friday, Kim called the document "positive," Chinese state television reported, but tough questions remain over the timing of concessions.

There are also disagreements between the six parties -- North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China -- over Pyongyang's demands for a light-water reactor to generate atomic energy.

Striking a tough note, a North Korean diplomat told the South's Yonhap news agency on Thursday that the Communist state would disclose no details of its nuclear programs and atomic weapons until the light-water reactor had been built for it.

Han Song-ryol, deputy chief of the North's U.N. mission, added that Pyongyang had no interest in Seoul's offer of electricity if it was meant as an alternative to the reactor.


Some saw Hu's three-day visit as less about details than a gesture of friendship.

"For the most part it is symbolic, to show China's policy toward Pyongyang is consistent and stable and it attaches equal importance to relations with both the North and the South," said Niu Jun, professor of international relations at Peking University.

Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan visited North Korea just days after North Korea announced in July it would return to the talks after an absence of more than a year. The trip was seen as giving Pyongyang face for coming back.

But Hu's visit, along with a delegation that includes Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Communist Party senior official Wang Jiarui, was the bigger reward.

Analysts said there could be items on the agenda apart from the nuclear issue for the Communist neighbors who share a 1,400-km (850-mile) border.

China is the impoverished North's biggest provider of food and fuel aid, a role that could become even more crucial in light of an announcement last month that North Korea no longer wanted to rely on international organizations for humanitarian aid.

With speculation mounting over who might succeed Kim as leader, analysts said the trip could also be an opportunity for North Korea to introduce Hu to the chosen heir, almost certainly one of Kim's sons.

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