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China asks N.K. heir to use plane, not train

Shift in means of transport may signal changes under next North Korean leader


Beijing asked North Korea’s next leader Kim Jong-un to fly to China instead of using the train, which his father has resorted to for various reasons including safety, diplomatic sources in Seoul said, signaling changes in the traditional allies’ future relationship.

Kim Jong-un is expected to visit China as early as late April to make an international debut as his father Kim Jong-il’s successor and meet with his Chinese counterpart and vice president Xi Jinping, who is set to succeed President Hu Jintao next year.

The Beijing government informally requested that Pyongyang use an aircraft instead of the train which requires strict railway control and security measures on China’s end.

For security and health reasons, Kim Jong-il has always used his private armored train in his past six trips to China, prompting China to partially shut down railways and roads when Kim passes by certain segments. This has caused inconvenience for Chinese citizens, leading some to complain on the Internet.

The shift of transport for North Korea’s top leadership in visiting its closest ally and main provider of economic aid foreshadows the start of a new relationship between the two countries.

First of all, Jong-un’s trips to China will be more official and less secretive than his father’s.

“No other leader of a country travels in a train to visit another country,” said Yu Ho-yeol, professor of North Korean studies at Korea University.

“China has offered special treatment in terms of security and protocol for Kim Jong-il so far in respect of the two countries’ unique relationship, but (the latest request) hints that the bilateral ties will take a new dimension under the next leadership.”

Being a so-called “princeling,” or a member of “taizidang,” a group of children of China’s communist elite, Xi is known to have strong ideological roots and influence within the Communist Party of China.

Kim Jong-un is the grandson of Kim Il-sung, who founded the North Korean regime officially named the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“Kim Jong-un is likely to meet with Xi during his upcoming visit, probably after the anniversary of the foundation of the North’s military on April 25, and I believe Kim Jong-il could accompany his son depending on his health condition,” Yu said.

The proposed use of an aircraft, however, could make it harder for South Korea or the rest of the world to detect the visits in advance, according to Kim Tae-hyo, an aide to President Lee Myung-bak.

In the past, monitoring railroad situations in Chinese towns bordering North Korea such as Dandong has often allowed Seoul to detect Kim Jong-il’s visits to China a day in advance.

Presidential secretary Kim said, however, that he was not aware of China’s request for air travel, adding it was highly unlikely for Beijing to make such a demand.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)

<한글 기사>

"김정은 방중때 열차 대신 비행기 이용해달라"

中 비공식 제안한 듯..지난주말 방중설 해프닝

중국이 북한 김정일 국방위원장의 후계자로 내정된 김정은의 방중 때 열차보다는 비행기편을 이용해달라는 뜻을 비공식적으로  북한에 전달한 것으로 알려졌다.

김정일 위원장처럼 전용열차를 이용하면 이동경로에 따라 엄격한 교통통제와 경비작전을 펼쳐야 하는데 따른 '경호부담'이 크기 때문인 것으로 보인다.

복수의 대북소식통은 13일 "중국이 열차이용 때 제기될 수 있는 경호상의 문제들로 인해 가급적 비행기를 이용했으면 좋겠다는 뜻을 비공식적으로 전한 것으로 안다"고 말했다.

김 위원장은 그동안 6차례 중국 방문때 모두 전용열차를 이용했으며 그때마다 중국은 철도와 도로를 완전 통제하고 곳곳에 경찰을 배치하는 '철통경호'를 해왔다.

이 때문에 김 위원장의 이동 경로에 있는 중국 시민은 큰 불편을 겪어야 했고 네티즌들 사이에서는 불만을 표출하는 글들이 올라오기도 했다.

김정은이 비행기를 이용해 중국을 방문할 경우 이는 단순한 방중수단의 변화를 넘어 북한 지도자의 세대교체를 상징적으로 보여주는 행보가 될 수 있다.

또 방중 형태가 '비밀 방중'에서 '공개 방중'으로 전환되는 계기가 될 것으로 보인다.

김정은의 방중 시기는 북중 양국의 정치일정상 4월 말 또는 5월 초가 유력한 것으로 점쳐지고 있다.

이런 가운데 지난주말 한때 중국 창춘(長春) 지역 일대에 교통통제가 내려져 김정은 방중과 관련된 움직임이 아니냐는 관측이 나돌았다.

그러나 이는 중국의 한 상무위원이 동북3성 일대 기업을 시찰하려고 현지를 방문하는 과정에서 일어났던 일시적 통제조치였던 것으로 확인됐다.

(연합뉴스)
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