|Kim Jong-il spotted in China (Yonhap News)|
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrived in Beijing apparently for a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, the South Korean media reported Wednesday, drawing regional attention to the talks that could provide a breakthrough to the stalemate in the North’s denuclearization process.
The North’s reclusive leader, who rarely travels abroad, is on his third trip to China in just over a year, highlighting his impoverished state’s growing financial and diplomatic dependence on its sole benefactor.
The possible meeting between leaders of the longstanding allied countries comes as regional powers have been discussing how to resume stalled peace talks with Pyongyang and whether they should restart sending food to the unpredictable country.
A special train carrying Pyongyang’s dictator pulled into a station in Beijing around 9 a.m. Wednesday and Kim soon settled in the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, local reports said, citing unnamed sources there.
The 69-year-old Kim has been visiting his key ally since Friday for “development and reform learning purposes,” a Chinese leader told the South Korean president during a meeting in Japan.
This file photo shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-il (left) meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in China in August 2010. (AP-Yonhap News)
The comments came at a rare occasion as Beijing does not unveil the details of the North Korean leader’s visit until after he leaves the country. Neither side has officially confirmed his trip or the summit between their leaders so far.
During a meeting with South Korean legislators Wednesday, Chinese Ambassador to Seoul Zhang Xinsen said his government “will soon officially announce” the results of Kim’s trip.
“My government views its cooperation with South Korea as very important in denuclearizing and maintaining peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he said.
During their previous summit in August last year, China’s Hu had urged Kim to open his isolated country for economic and diplomatic purposes, and make more effort in mending ties with Seoul.
Pyongyang, more desperate than ever to remain on the good side of its sole benefactor for financial assistance and approval of its hereditary succession, is likely to accept whatever China has to propose upon the trip, analysts say.
Summer floods and a poor harvest have been worsening food shortages in North Korea, which has relied mostly on outside aid to feed its starving population of 24 million since the late 1990s.
Beijing’s financial assistance has been growing more vital for Pyongyang since 2008, when it was slapped with strict economic sanctions for conducting a second atomic test.
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.”
Kim looked around several industrial facilities such as IT companies and automakers in northern and eastern China during his visit, drawing attention to whether he is serious about reforming and opening up his reclusive country.
Despite repeated calls from China to follow its reform experiences, the reclusive Kim regime has been sensitive about opening up its people to outside news.
Eyes are also on whether the trip will provide a breakthrough in resuming the stalled multinational talks aimed at disarming Pyongyang.
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.
During his meeting with China’s Wen, President Lee had said it was the North “who is in need of resuming dialogue” with Seoul, indicating his unwillingness to soften stance toward Pyongyang, according to a senior official here.
South Korea, which suffered two deadly attacks from the North that killed 50 of its people last year, has been firm not to resume aid or dialogue until a proper apology is offered. Pyongyang continues to deny responsibility.
Kim’s trip is taking place as a U.S. fact-finding team, led by special envoy on North Korean human rights Robert King, is currently in North Korea to determine food conditions on the impoverished state.
International charity groups have been escalating calls for countries to resume sending food to North Korea in consideration of its starving people rather than its dictator’s ongoing nuclear ambitions and provocations.
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.
Washington stopped sending food to Pyongyang as of March 2009 shortly after the North’s second nuclear test. Questioning its food distribution system, the U.S. sent less than half of what it had promised the North ― 500,000 tons of food ―- the previous year.
By Shin Hae-in (firstname.lastname@example.org)