Visit Of Kim Jong-IL To China — An Assessment

Kim Jong-il, General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Chairman of North Korea’s National Defense Commission, visited China from August 26 to 30, 2010. This is his second visit to China this year. He had earlier visited China in May last. Underlining the significance of the visit, the “China Daily” said in an article: “Never before has Kim paid two visits abroad within a year.”

The visit by train was first detected by the South Korean intelligence and reported by the South Korean media. Western news agencies picked up news of the visit from the South Korean media. The Chinese and North Korean authorities and the Government/party controlled media of the two countries maintained silence on the visit till the morning of August 30. On the morning of August 30, the Chinese media for the first time commented on the reports carried by the South Korean and Western media on the visit without confirming that he was in China. The confirmation came later that day on the Chinese Central TV after he had returned to North Korea. The TV reported that President Hu Jintao had met Kim Jong-il in Changchun, the capital of the Jilin province, on August 27. It carried visuals of the meeting between the two leaders and a report on a banquet hosted by Mr.Hu in honour of the North Korean leader.

Kim’s visit was confined to Jilin and Heilongjiang,  where he visited several agricultural and industrial establishments — reportedly in order to learn from the Chinese experience in the modernisation of its economy. In this connection, the Chinese media referred to a visit earlier made by him — without saying when — to Vietnam to learn from its experience in modernisation. Kim visited a food processing factory, a high-speed train factory and an elementary school in Jilin where his father, the late  Kim Sung-Il,  had studied in the 1920s.

The “China Daily” reported on August 31 that during the talks with Kim President Hu emphasized that it was a basic experience of China’s reform over the past three decades that economic development called for self-dependence but cannot be achieved without cooperating with the outside world. Hu reportedly said:” This is the inevitable path of the times that accelerates the development of a country.” According to Piao Jianyi, chief of the Center of Korean Peninsula Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Kim indicated that North Korea’s development will be closely connected with cooperation with China. Piao was of the view that  a major party meeting next month in Pyongyang might  take important decisions concerning development, probably by drawing inspiration from China’s experience.

Chinese analysts feel that an important objective of the visit was probably to brief the Chinese leadership on North Korean plans for launching a drive for the modernisation of the North Korean economy. Would that drive be as ambitious as that of China? Would North Korea open up to the outside world—particularly to the West— as significantly as China had done post-1978? Or would the expected North Korean modernisation and opening-up be in North Korean colours—-more gradual with continuing suspicion of the outside world? The answers to these questions are not yet available. They are unlikely to be available in adequate measure even after the coming party meeting next month. North Korea’s evolution into a modern economy would most probably come about slowly and almost imperceptibly. There are no indications as yet that its leadership has overcome its paranoia of the West—-particularly the US.

The second objective was to brief the Chinese leaders about what Kim called “the rising generation” and to reassure Beijing that the expected generational changes would not affect North Korean bonds with China. Kim was quoted as having stated as follows at the banquet hosted by President Hu: “With the international situation remaining complicated, it is our important historical mission to hand over to the rising generation the baton of the traditional friendship passed over by the revolutionary forerunners of the two countries as a precious asset so as to carry it forward through generations.”

This strengthened speculation that at  the party meeting next month Kim might officially indicate his plans for his succession which might involve the elevation of his youngest Swiss-educated son (27 years old) Kim Jong-Un. Why did Kim feel the need to reassure the Chinese that the “rising generation” will be as close to China as the present generation and the preceding one of his father? Was his visit to the Chinese school which his father had attended meant to emphasise the close links of his family with China and calm possible Chinese misgivings about the impact of the Swiss upbringing of Kim Jong-Un on future North Korean policies?

The third objective was to discuss with the Chinese leadership a possible return of North Korea to the six-party talks on its nuclear programme and the sequel to the sinking of a South Korean naval ship allegedly by North Korea in March last. The Xinhua news agency reported that Kim told Hu that North Korea remained committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that it “is not willing to see tensions on the peninsula.” According to Xinhua, Kim said he wished to maintain close communication and coordination with China in pushing for an early resumption of the Six-Party Talks to ease the tension on the Korean Peninsula, and to maintain peace and stability there. It quoted Hu as telling Kim that maintaining peace and stability on the peninsula accorded with the common aspiration of the people, and China respected and supported positive efforts made by North Korea  to ease the situation. The North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), however, made no mention of the remarks attributed to Kim by Xinhua.

Despite these remarks, Chinese analysts are not optimistic about the chances of an early resumption of the Six-Party talks. The “China Daily” has quoted Zhang Liangui, Professor of international strategic research at the Central Party School, as saying as follows: “The US and the DRPK have different expectations on the talks. While the US seeks denuclearization of the peninsula, the DPRK wants to get the UN sanctions on it lifted.”

Chinese analysts described as a surprise Kim’s leaving Pyongyang for China when former US President Jimmy Carter was visiting the North Korean capital to secure the release of  an American, Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who was sentenced in April to eight years in jail for entering the country illegally. Lü Chao, Director of the North and South Korea Research Center at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said in an interview: “Carter has a good reputation in North Korea. Kim has met him before. But perhaps Kim missed this meeting on purpose to show his toughness and send a message that it will not bow to US pressure after a series of military drills between the US and South Korea.”

Two interesting editorials carried by the Party-owned “Global Times” on the visit on August 30 and 31 are annexed.

ANNEXURE (“Global Times” editorials)

North Korea’s reform and opening-up (published on August 31, 2010)

The fact that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited China last week was finally confirmed by the two governments Monday.

Although foreign media continues to speculate about Kim’s “succession plan” and whether he brought his son along, there are signs that the North Korean leader is showing an increasing interest in the economy.

In his two visits within about a three-month span, Kim visited a number of cities that are on the frontier of China’s booming market economy.

Earlier, he also visited Vietnam, and inspected Russian cities that were undergoing social transformations.

This points to North Korea having a strong interest in opening up and developing its economy. In fact, the country has made several experimental attempts in the past decade or two, including setting up a special economic zone and conducting currency reform.

It is hard to imagine that any country wants to stay poor and isolated. The international community should not marginalize North Korea out of prejudice.

China’s rising economy is taking place just across a river from North Korea. There is no reason the North Korean leadership is not willing to learn from China.

Kim Jong-il’s latest visit shows his attention to the economy has been growing.

The outside world complains that North Korea has shut itself in. But, they may think otherwise when they consider the existence of a South Korea-US alliance, and the fact that the media in South Korea, the US and Japan have been openly discussing how to overthrow the North’s rule.

The West always sees North Korea as one of the world’s major threats. But how could a country like North Korea be strong enough to launch a “suicide attack” against them?

Living in the shadows of South Korea, Japan and the US, North Korea has to wrap itself up tighter in order to fend off military threats, and threats of political and cultural infiltration.

North Korea’s opening-up will help relieve tensions in Northeast Asia. But, the knot does not only lie on the North’s side. Other countries in this region must redouble their efforts to untangle the knot.

These three nations should not bully North Korea any more. China should also try hard to pull North Korea out of its international turmoil.
If the US does not cooperate, South Korea and Japan will have to reconsider their roles. Do they really want to be trapped in a knot made tighter by the US?

China-North Korea’s stable relationship (published on August 30, 2010)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has become a hot topic in international news media over the past few days, as they speculate about Kim’s “secret” trip to northeastern China, and his political mission.

With anonymous sources saying that Kim met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, and Kim likely asked Beijing to concur with North Korea’s long-anticipated leadership change, Western media has also been trying to illustrate a “special” relationship between the two countries.

Actually, in today’s China, the media seldom uses the word “special” to describe the two countries’ relations. It does not necessarily mean China is deliberately shunning the long historical ties the two countries share.

Beijing has long made it clear that it aims to keep the peace on the Korean Peninsula via a normal China-North Korea relationship.

North Korea has become a marginalized member of Northeast Asia. When China, South Korea and Japan compete with each other and become further involved with each other’s economies, the North is like a forgotten island.

Many in China have begun to complain that the isolated North Korea brings too much trouble for China in international relations, and the two countries’ relationship should not go back to a “special” status.

However, as a result of historical and geopolitical reasons, the current China-North Korea relationship is not a simple one. This also explains why Kim Jong-il visits China frequently.

Every coin has two sides. The China-North Korea relationship gives other interested countries too much hope of bringing North Korea back to the negotiation table over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The other countries unrealistically expect China has a strong hand to teach its little brother a lesson when it gets naughty.

Perhaps they do not know that North Korea has a strong mind to make its own decisions. Also, China’s diplomatic principle is to not interfere with another country’s internal affairs.

However, North Korea is an active variable in Northeast Asia, and keeping a stable relationship with it will give China an edge in taking the initiative in international affairs in this region.

The seeming trouble made by North Korea is actually a reflection of Cold War mentalities that separate the Korean Peninsula into the North and the South, and the US has a big part in the region’s confusion.

China is not a passive player in Northeast Asia. A stable relationship with North Korea does not mean China has to be an enemy of Japan, South Korea or the US.

As long as China carefully balances international relations in this region, the China-North Korea relationship will not become a negative factor, but a positive boost toward Northeast Asia’s peace and prosperity.

China will continue to encourage and help North Korea open up to the world, which will be conducive to the peace in Northeast Asia.

B. Raman

B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: [email protected]

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