May 04, 2010 10:00
When North Korean leader Kim Jong-il arrives in Beijing on Tuesday or Wednesday, he will be treated to a state banquet commemorating the 60th anniversary of China's participation in the Korean War attended by the host country's most illustrious officials.
Members of the Communist Party's politburo line up to greet the visiting leader of North Korea in a tradition that dates back to the days of former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. If a summit is difficult to schedule, top Chinese officials at least attend an official banquet in honor of the North Korean leader. One North Korean source in Beijing said, "Since he came to power, Kim Jong-il has visited China four times, and each time at least five top officials or even the entire Chinese leadership have met him."
This is Kim's first trip to China in four years. Since his last visit to Beijing, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests, which have displeased high-ranking Chinese officials. Pyongyang and Beijing have even exchanged barbs over the issue. When China signed up to UN sanctions against North Korea in July last year, Kim Yong-nam, chairman of the Presidium of Pyongyang's Worker's Party, declared that the six-party talks had ended forever and announced it would boycott the multilateral dialogue hosted by Beijing.
Yet China's VIP treatment of the North Korean leader is rooted in Beijing's own national interests. China must embrace North Korea to lead the six-party talks, allowing it to maintain stability in Northeast Asia and retain the status quo. Beijing is also wary of the North Korean regime collapsing, which would trigger a mass exodus of refugees across the border.
"As bilateral relations strengthen, denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the six party talks and North Korea's economic development will gain momentum," said Prof. Liu Jiangyong of International Relations at the Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University. "The selection of Dalian as the first stop of Kim's China visit should be of great assistance in the development of a special economic zone in North Korea's Rajin-Sonbong area."
One North Korea expert in Beijing said North Korea's efforts to distance itself from China and focus on improving ties with the U.S. and South Korea "have not gained very much, so now ties with China are finally getting a chance to improve."
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