Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie's frank comments about North Korea on Sunday were "extremely rare" according to a South Korean intelligence official. "We are trying to persuade them not to take risks," Liang said in a speech at the 10th International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore.
North Korea earlier stepped up the rhetoric against South Korea, saying it would no longer engage the South, revealing a secret meeting with Seoul officials, and threatening "retaliation" for South Korean attempts at psychological warfare.
These developments came in the days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il returned from a visit to China, and observers believe there must be a connection between Kim's disappointment with the visit and his return to belligerence.
◆ Snubbed by Jiang Zemin
A government official says Kim went to Yangzhou, former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's home town, on May 22 and 23, but it appears he failed to meet Jiang there. Jiang was not mentioned in a briefing that Beijing gave to Seoul about Chinese officials who met Kim on his trip.
"There are multiple accounts that Jiang was not present at a banquet in Yangzhou for Kim Jong-il and that Mayor Wang Yanwen was the highest Chinese official present," a diplomatic source in Beijing said. "Kim Jong-il tried to meet Jiang to gain his support for the hereditary transfer of power in North Korea, but appears to have failed."
That means Kim traveled 29 hours by train, covering a distance of 3,000 km, just to tour a few industrial sites.
◆ Chinese Criticism
Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao apparently made critical comments designed to prod Kim to improve inter-Korean relations and reform the Stalinist country's economy. Responding to Kim's request for massive Chinese investment in North Korea's Hwanggumpyong Island and Rajin-Sonbong special economic zone, Wen said, "China hopes that economic cooperation is achieved through normal business processes and we believe provinces and businesses need to become more proactive." That was being read as a hint that the central government will not get involved and wants to leave any investment up to market principles, which North Korea abhors.
Hu later the same day told Kim to focus on "maintaining objectivity and restraint in tackling obstacles and improving mutual relations." Experts in China believe the "obstacles" referred to North Korea's sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year.
A diplomatic source in Beijing said China told North Korea through diplomatic channels "that even Beijing will not be able to help if another provocation by the North like the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island triggers a war."
Beijing apparently ramped up the pressure because previous attempts to stop North Korea from provoking the South failed.
◆ Papering Over the Cracks
Although Kim failed to accomplish his objectives in China, the North Korean regime is telling the public that relations with Beijing have grown stronger. A meeting of top Workers Party figures Monday decided to proceed with the development of Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa islands bordering China even though no money from Beijing will be forthcoming. As a result, a ground-breaking ceremony for Hwanggumpyong, which was abruptly cancelled last month, may take place on Tuesday.
And the Workers Party Politburo in an "extended meeting" on Monday decided to bolster ties with Beijing "through the generations," according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency. Talk of the "generations" seems to be code for the succession to power of Kim Jong-il's son Kim Jong-un. A Unification Ministry official said it was the first time since 1981 that there has been such an extended meeting.