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N.K. leader visits Nanjing industrial park

Kim’s trip indicates urgency in securing economic assistance from China


North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in the eastern city of Nanjing and looked around industrial facilities there, the South Korean media said on Tuesday, the fifth day of the secretive trip indicating the communist state’s need to secure aid and economic support from its main benefactor.

Kim traveled to Nanjing in a convoy of some 40 cars from Yangzhou and visited an industrial park and a shopping center there, local reports said quoting unidentified sources.

The North Korean dictator, whose rare overseas trips draw much regional attention, has been visiting his key ally since Friday for “development and reform learning purposes,” a Chinese leader told the South Korean president during their meeting in Japan.

Kim’s trip to China, the third in just over a year, appears to indicate the communist state’s growing urgency in securing financial support from its last-remaining benefactor to overcome deepening food shortages and international isolation.

Beijing’s financial assistance has been growing more critical toward the North, which was slapped with strict economic sanctions after conducting a second atomic test in 2008 and two deadly attacks against Seoul last year.

Meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak during a trilateral summit in Japan over the weekend, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said his government had invited Kim to “provide North Korea with the chance to understand China’s economic development,” confirming the trip shrouded in secrecy.

The South Korean government “has not been provided of any new information concerning the visit” of Kim, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae said.

“We are hoping the North’s exchanges with China will lead to reforms and better livelihood of North Koreans,” he told a regular press briefing Tuesday.

Although neither China nor North Korea has yet to unveil the whereabouts of Kim during the trip, the 69-year-old dictator is believed to have met with Vice President Xi Jinping, ex-President Jiang Zemin and travel to Shanghai later in the week.

Kim will be in China as a fact-finding team from Washington left for his country Tuesday to examine its food shortages.

North Korea has been appealing to the international community for aid to feed its starving people.

While the World Food Program concluded in March that more than 6 million North Koreans, about a quarter of the communist state’s population, need urgent aid of some 475,000 tons of food, Seoul and Washington have been lukewarm toward resuming aid in full scale, citing the country’s earlier provocations and ongoing nuclear ambitions.

Kim’s trip is taking place also amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts among regional powers aimed at resuming the multinational nuclear disarmament talks.

Beijing, which has been trying to get the two Koreas to hold nuclear talks and mend ties as the first step in restarting larger-scale negotiations, is largely expected to urge Pyongyang to take up the suggestion upon Kim’s visit, analysts say.

Hosted by China, the six-nation dialogue, also involving the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan and Russia, has been stalled since the end of 2008, fueling regional concerns over Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear ambitions.

Earlier media reports in Seoul had said it was the North’s young heir apparent who was visiting China, but he does not seem included in the list of Pyongyang’s entourage, sources say.

The leader-to-be Kim Jong-un, still in his 20s, was first unveiled to outsiders in September and is expected to take over the impoverished regime from his father as early as next year. The 69-year-old incumbent leader apparently suffered a stroke in 2008 and has continued to suffer from poor health.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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