North Korean leader Kim Jong-il talked with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing for almost four hours on Wednesday, the sixth day of his China visit. The two leaders are believed to have discussed issues like stronger bilateral ties, the North's power transfer and nuclear weapons program, and closer economic cooperation.
Kang Sok-ju, the North's top envoy for nuclear affairs, and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping were also present at the meeting. Kim is also believed to have met Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse to discuss joint development projects in the Rajin-Sonbong Special Economic Zone and other cooperative ventures.
Kim's armored train had left Jiangsu Province at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and traveled 1,100 km over night to arrive in Beijing on Wednesday morning. Security was tight at Beijing Station. The North Korean leader is expected to head back to North Korea on Thursday morning.
Prof. Cho Dong-ho of Ewha Womans University speculated that Kim visited China three times over the last 12 months to "map out North Korea's survival strategy for the next 10 years."
◆ Survival Strategy
When the U.S. was the sole superpower, Kim sought to maintain his grip on power through improved ties with Washington. But with China's ascendency, he needs to bolster ties with Beijing. A source familiar with North Korean affairs, said long-term infrastructure projects take up a large portion of economic cooperation projects.
China cannot afford to alienate North Korea, aiming as it does to create a middle-class society by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party, where basic living standards are guaranteed. And stability on the Korean Peninsula is key to ensuring China's economic development. Cho at Ewha said, "China does not want the Kim Jong-il regime to collapse. North Korea knows this, and that's why it continues to demand Beijing recognize its leadership succession and provide economic aid."
Many experts believe North Korea may have made some concessions about its nuclear weapons program to allow China to save face.
◆ Consolidating Ties
Jo Myong-rok, the former first vice chairman of North Korea's National Defense Commission, said during a visit in 2003 that Beijing-Pyongyang relations are based on "blood and bullets." Hu responded by calling them a "traditional alliance." At the time that was seen as expressing Beijing's desire to treat relations with the North as conventional ties rather than an alliance forged in blood, in an apparent attempt to put some distance between them.
But following the North's first and second nuclear tests, China too stressed the "blood ties" between them, perhaps in order to calm the regime. Kim's meeting with former Chinese President Jiang Zemin during the trip is also being read in this context as trying to highlight the historic weight of their ties.
◆ Better Atmosphere
It is widely thought that the summits in May and August last year were tense. A government source said, "There are rumors that Hu asked Kim directly during the May summit whether North Korea sank the [South Korean Navy corvette] Cheonan," and in August insisted the North Korea reform and open up to the outside world. But he added, "I don't think China made these kinds of demands this time because North Korea is going through difficult times."