North Korea's No. 2 leader arrived in China today, ending an eight-year hiatus in high-level exchanges between the two countries.
Amid a flurry of diplomatic activity focused on the Korean peninsula, Kim Yong Nam, the chairman of North Korea's parliament who is considered second only to senior leader Kim Jong Il, arrived in Beijing to a state welcome. He was accompanied by foreign minister Paek Nam Sun, cabinet premier Hong Song Nam and defense minister Kim Il Chol.
Meanwhile, after four days of secret talks here, North Korea and South Korea agreed today to resume government-level talks, which were halted in April of last year. South Korea promised to give North Korea 200,000 tons of fertilizer, worth $50 million.
The events occurred just days after U.S. presidential envoy William J. Perry and several high-ranking American security officials completed a 3 1/2-day trip to North Korea. It was the highest level U.S. delegation to travel to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. Perry characterized his talks with North Korean officials, including parliament chairman Kim Young Nam, as "very intensive, extremely substantive, and quite valuable." The talks, he said, concentrated on "U.S. and allied concerns over the North's missile and nuclear programs, and issues of peace, security, and stability on the Korean peninsula and the Northeast Asian region." Perry did not meet with Kim Jong Il.
Western observers and experts on Korea said they detect a potential shift away from confrontation in the security situation in North Korea, although they stressed that the government there remains unfathomable and subject to wild policy swings.
North Korea's disastrously managed economy appears to have stabilized slightly. And a famine, caused partly by bad weather but mostly by bad management, which has killed as many as 2 million people, appears to be easing. The World Bank called in a recent report for the establishment of a mechanism to help economic development in North Korea.
Kim's visit to China is the first since the late President Kim Il Sung came here in October 1991. Ten months later, Beijing infuriated North Korea by establishing ties with its rival South Korea. This year marks the 50th anniversary of China's ties with North Korea. At one time there were rumors here saying China and North Korea were negotiating for the reclusive Kim Jong Il to travel to China.
Tonight, China's state-run television quoted Kim Yong Nam as saying Kim Jong Il did not travel to China because he is still mourning his father Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994. The parliament chairman was met by Li Peng, the head of China's parliament and the most anti-American of China's top officials. Li recalled that North Korea and China "bled together to fight imperialism," a reference to the 1950-1953 Korean War in which Chinese troops propped up the Communist government in Pyongyang.
The United States has pressed China to improve its ties with Pyongyang. U.S. officials argue that China must exert greater influence on North Korea to limit its development of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. U.S. calls for better Beijing-Pyongyang relations intensified after North Korea fired a three-stage rocket over Japanese territory last August. China has argued that it has limited influence over a government known as the "hermit kingdom."