Kim Jong Il Feels at Home at Chinese Embassy
Kim Jong Il and other North Korean officials (Kim Yang-gon, director of the United Front Department of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, Kang Sok-ju, first vice-minister of foreign affairs, and Kim Kyok-sik, chief of the General Staff of the People’s Army) stopped by the Chinese Embassy on Saturday for dinner and photographs. Kim told Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming:
“China and (North) Korea are like a close family. I’m very glad to come to the Chinese Embassy. I feel as if I were visiting a relatives’ house….I am sure of your success in the upcoming Beijing Olympics, which is an honor not only for the Chinese people but also for the peoples in Asia and the world (via Chosun Ilbo). “
Ties between China and North Korea have been growing since the North Korean nuclear test. Chosun Ilbo analyzes the strategic implications of these growing ties:
It is believed that Kim’s visit was prompted by North Korea’s strategic need to strengthen its relations with China. Since its nuclear test in September 2006, North Korea had kept a distance from China, but it apparently considered it expedient to restore ties with its closest ally for the sake of aid now Seoul, Washington and Tokyo show signs of strengthening their alliance in the wake of conservative President Lee Myung-bak’s inauguration in Seoul. Other observers said that Kim visited the Chinese Embassy in a bid to strike a balance in diplomacy following a concert by the New York Philharmonic in Pyongyang.
Yang Moo Jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, notes that Kim has some very practical reasons for wanting to strenghen ties with China: his regime’s future may depend on it.
“North Korea has no choice but to reinforce its ties with China to avoid diplomatic isolation in case inter-Korean relations freeze and the trilateral cooperation among South Korea, Japan and the United States becomes stronger under the Lee administration. It also has to step closer to making China a patron to provide rice and other aid on behalf of South Korea (via Joongang Ilbo).”
Professor Kim Yeon Chul of Korea University elaborates on this point:
“If the nuclear problem continues to be in a stalemate and inter-Korean relations are aggravated, the only escape North Korea has (to survive) is through a recovery of its relations with China (see Korea Herald 3/3/08 “N.K. seeks to mend relations with China”).
Interestingly, Pyongyang plans to pay homage to former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai:
Kim said Korean Central TV will air a feature program on former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, who died in 1976, to mark his 110th birthday on March 5. Kim said Zhou and his late father Kim Il-sung enjoyed a special relationship. North Korea set up a statue of Zhou in Pyongyang in 1983.
Zhou, best known as a skillful diplomat, was responsible for bringing Nixon and Kissenger to Beijing in 1972 and for reopening contacts with the West. In his later life, Zhou opposed the Cultural Revolution, becoming a target for the Gang of Four’s propaganda. He was also instrumental in the rise of Deng Xiaoping. Deng Xiaoping, of course, was responsible for Chinese Gaige Kaifang (opening and reform). I wouldn’t want to draw any conclusions based on this alone, but I can’t help but wonder if Kim and company are signaling their support for greater reform and opening to the west. Perhaps this is Kim’s way of giving tacit approval to the Chinese path.
Meanwhile in Beijing, Kim Gye Gwan stood up Christopher Hill by, despite Chinese attempts to set the two a meeting between the two nuclear negotiators. Hill stayed on in Beijing after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reported fruitful discussions with her Chinese counterpart. According to Kyodo (via Reuters) Hill said Kim was “not ready to meet,” and noted that the North Koreans were “looking at the ideas [the Chinese proposed] and haven’t decided what they want to do,”