Speculation Rife as Top N.Korean Official Tours China

      March 03, 2010 12:38

      Kim Yong-il /Yonhap

      Kim Yong-il, the chief of the North Korean Workers' Party's International Department, has been touring cities in northeastern China since late February. The unusually long tour gives rise to a speculation that he may be preparing for a China visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

      "Given that summits between North Korea and China have to be arranged, Kim Yong-il may be there to discuss Kim Jong-il's China visit," a diplomatic source in Beijing speculated. "Some of the cities Kim Yong-il has visited may be included in the itinerary of the North Korean leader."

      On Feb. 23, the first day of his visit, Kim Yong-il paid a courtesy call on President Hu Jintao and met Wang Jiarui, his Chinese counterpart. Wang had been the North early in February and delivered a letter from Hu to Kim Joing-il to invite him to China.

      Concluding meetings with Chinese leaders on the first day of his tour, Kim started visiting major cities in north and northeastern China the following day. He visited the Binhai economic zone in Tianjin on Feb. 24. The next day he toured Dalian in Liaoning Province's coastal economic belt and Shenyang. On Feb. 28, he visited Changchun, Jilin Province. The regional development belt of Changchun, Jilin and Tumen is linked to the Rajin-Sonbong area in North Hamgyong Province, which the North turned into a special economic zone in January.

      That the cities Kim visited are all near the border gives rise to a speculation that economic issues will top the agenda if the North Korean leader visits China.

      Kim Yong-il also met provincial leaders who briefed him on economic development projects and proposed strengthened cooperation with the North, the local media reported.

      Liaoning and Jilin provinces have long proposed to the North stronger economic cooperation and construction of railroads, roads and bridges to secure access to the East Sea. But the North has apparently been suspicious of China's motives.

      "If the North Korean leader visits China, economic cooperation issue will be the main agenda along with the six-party talks," a Chinese expert on North Korea said. But some sources say Kim Yong-il's trip has nothing to do with preparations for a visit from his leader since his entourage consists mainly of International Department officials.

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