Watching Chairman Kim in Shanghai

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Watching Chairman Kim in Shanghai

This reporter may be the Korean who can claim to have watched North Korean National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jongil’s Shanghai visit at the closest range during his visit. While tracking and reporting his movements, I reached the conclusion that the reform and opening of North Korea was as good as officially announced in Shanghai in the first month of the first year of the new century.

This feeling arose because it seemed to be obvious here that North Korean leader Kim chose to show his intentions directly by staging a piece of drama instead of following the simple pattern of appearing before the media to read a statement about reform and opening. Chairman Kim skipped the “city of politics,” Beijing, and rushed directly to Shanghai. If this VIP visit was to solidify North Korean links with China and coordinate opinions ahead of the second NorthSouth Summit, as was reported, he could have completed all his business in Beijing.

But he showed himself to be a student learning about capitalism in Shanghai, the “city of business.” From the moment of his arrival, Chairman Kim never had a moment of rest . he made a forced march. He experienced the excitement of people on the street and breathed in the great energy of Shanghai at Waitan and the city’s observation tower. He had a close look at the Shanghai stock exchange, financial institutions and the production of lines of semiconductors and communication equipment. During his visit he asked meticulous questions, as a student would. It was extraordinary for the leader of the Chinese economy, Premier Zhu Rongji, to come down to Shanghai to guide Chairman Kim himself.

The presence of Mr. Zhu strongly implies that Chairman Kim must have needed the “final advice” of the economic leader, because he was at on the point of making an important decision on economic matters. It may not be too wild to speculate that Chairman Kim wanted to visit the southern city of Shenzhen to pave the way for construction of a special economic complex at Kaesong, in southern North Korea.

The South Korean and foreign press described this visit to China as a “top secret visit.” However, from my perspective in the field, it seemed to be a completely open visit. The trip itself was not officially announced, of course, but that is typical for a “Kim Jongil style official visit.” The North notified the South about the visit to China, and Chairman Kim visited major corporations in Shanghai in a rather open manner, hinting at the open nature of the visit. And yet, there were only three Korean reporters on the scene.
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