Will Kim Jong-il's China Visit Produce Any Useful Results?

      April 02, 2010 13:27

      Cheong Wa Dae has acknowledged signs that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il appears to be heading to China soon. Presidential spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye told reporters on Wednesday, "We believe there is a strong possibility of a visit to China by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and are paying close attention." Kim may embark on his trip as early as today. It would be his first overseas visit since his stroke in August 2008.

      The visit coincides with the emergency in South Korea following the mysterious sinking of a Navy corvette near the maritime border with North Korea. Although the exact cause remains unclear, North Korean involvement cannot be completely ruled out. The sinking of the vessel Cheonan must be factored into the circumstances surrounding Kim’s China visit.

      Kim has visited China four times so far. He held a series of summits in Beijing in 2000 and 2004 on trips that lasted three days. During his second trip to China in 2001, Kim visited the economically booming Pudong area of Shanghai for six days and said the city had undergone "miraculous changes." During his fourth visit in January of 2006, Kim toured the Zhuhai and Shenzhen regions of Guangdong Province for nine days and is said to have been enchanted by China's economic liberalization policies. It seems likely that China recommended Kim tour the boomtowns as a broad hint that he should embrace liberalization in the North.

      In July 2002, the year after his Shanghai visit, Kim implemented timid economic reforms and designated a special economic zone in Sinuiju, but the efforts flopped. The reason was a lack of understanding of China's bold liberalization and fears that such market-opening steps may weaken Kim's grip on power. Instead, the North Korean leader ended up isolating his country further from the international community and exacerbating its economic situation by conducting two nuclear tests.

      At present, Kim faces an angry public following a botched currency revaluation and an acute food shortage compounded by a moribund economy. There is a strong possibility that the North Korean leader may beg for more aid from China, while South Korea and the U.S. are hoping that Beijing will secure a pledge from Kim to return to the stalled six-country nuclear talks. But if Kim's visit results in merely a pledge to return to the talks in return for yet more money from China, it will make no difference to the tense situation on the Korean peninsula.

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