China Keeps Purse Strings Tight During Kim Jong-il's Visit

It appears North Korean leader Kim Jong-il returned once again empty-handed from a trip to China that ended Monday, despite the warm hospitality he enjoyed there. Neither the North Korean nor the Chinese press mentioned aid when they reported on Kim's latest tour of China's northeastern region.

This is the second time this year Kim, whose country is in dire economic straits due to international sanctions and a botched currency reform, has failed to win substantial Chinese support, a South Korean government official said.

When he visited China in 2004, the North's official Rodong Sinmun daily immediately reported on a Chinese grant, and in 2006 it quoted Kim as expressing thanks to the Chinese for "giving unselfish aid and support."

Meanwhile, China's state-run Xinhua news agency on Monday reported that Kim "fully" agreed when Chinese President Hu Jintao proposed that the two countries promote economic cooperation "that is mutually beneficial."

This seems to mean that the North can get economic benefits only by cooperating with China in a development project for the three northeastern Chinese provinces and giving it access to the Rajin-Sonbong Port.

A North Korean defector said North Koreans who have been hit by devastating floods had apparently expected to hear good news about free food aid when they heard news reports about Kim's China trip, "but the North Korean media didn't mention anything about aid. This means whatever gift Kim received fell far short of the North Korean people's expectations."

When he was in China in May, Kim had asked for 500,000 tons of food aid, but his request was reportedly turned down. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had pledged US$20 million worth of an aid, equivalent to a mere 30,000 tons of rice, when he visited the North in October last year, the South Korean official said.

"China tends to give the North aid only to the extent that North Koreans don't starve to death," said Prof. Lee Jo-won of Chungang University. "But it's not going to blindly give hundreds of millions any more."

The North Korean regime has a sorry history of diverting international aid to the military.

englishnews@chosun.com / Sep. 01, 2010 11:03 KST