Kim’s visit may signal aid for six-party talks

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Kim’s visit may signal aid for six-party talks

BEIJING - An advance team of the North Korean Workers’ Party is currently in Beijing, possibly discussing the agenda for a summit with Kim Jong-il, a well-informed Chinese source told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday, fueling speculation about an imminent visit by the North Korean leader.

The Blue House also said Wednesday there is a high possibility that Kim was about to visit Beijing.

According to the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, a group of working-level officials from the Workers’ Party has been in Beijing. “Kim also holds the title of general secretary of the Workers’ Party of North Korea, and whenever he goes overseas, the secretariat’s officials are dispatched as an advance team to coordinate arrangements,” he said. “About 10 officials are currently in Beijing.”

In addition to the Workers’ Party team, a group of Kim’s private guard unit, the Escort Bureau, also arrived in Beijing earlier this week to check on the security situation, another source in China told the JoongAng Ilbo. “In the past, Kim appeared in Beijing within two or three days of his security guards,” the source said.

No special activity, however, was detected at the North Korean embassy in Beijing yesterday morning. “When Kim comes to Beijing, he stays at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, so the North Korean embassy is often not involved in his trip,” another source said.

Mixed signs were evident at the China-North Korea border. A source in the border city of Dandong, China, said agents of North Korea and China had jointly checked on the security of the China-Korea Friendship Bridge across the Yalu (Amnok) River on Wednesday. “They were checking on the possibility of explosives on the bridge before Kim’s special train passes there,” he said.

Kim had made four trips to China, all using his special train, in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

Yet the Zhonglian International Hotel overlooking the bridge continued to receive reservations as of yesterday. In the past, the hotel denied reservations for riverside rooms around the time of Kim’s trip to China.

“If Kim’s visit is realized, we should interpret it as an indication that China and North Korea have struck a deal,” another official in China said. “China probably agrees to provide food and financial aid to restore the North’s economy from the devastating aftermath of Pyongyang’s failed currency reform. In return, North Korea will likely return to the six-party nuclear negotiation to save the face of China, the host of the talks.”

In October last year, Kim told visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Pyongyang that his country was “willing to attend multilateral talks, including the six-party talks.”

The six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear arms program have stalled since the last session took place in December 2008.

“As soon as Kim successfully completes his visit to China, China is expected to inform the South, the United States, Japan and Russia that it will meet for preliminary talks,” he said. “After bilateral contact between Pyongyang and Washington, the six-party talks will likely resume at the end of April or in May.”

The United States also renewed its hope that Kim’s possible visit to China will help resume the six-party talks.

Asked about a possible trip, Mark Toner, acting deputy U.S. State Department spokesman, said Wednesday, “Again, we hope it’s an occasion, if he does in fact go there, that the Chinese can talk to him about the six-party [talks], the concerns that we have about their nuclear program and to urge that they return to talks.”

There has been speculation that Kim will travel with his heir-apparent, third son Kim Jong-un.

“This trip may be Kim’s last visit to China [taking into account his age and health conditions] and also the last opportunity for him to introduce his successor to the Chinese leadership,” said a diplomatic source in Beijing. “It is important for us to watch if Kim Jong-un will make his debut in the international diplomatic arena.”

When Kim Jong-il was named successor to his father, North Korean founder Kim Il Sung, he visited China in June 1983 and met with Chinese leaders Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang.

Other North Korea specialists, however, played down the possibility, noting that China is not in favor of a third-generation succession of the Kim family.

Top military, government and Workers’ Party officials are expected to accompany Kim, but Kim’s brother-in-law Jang Song-thaek may remain in Pyongyang. Vice Marshal Kim Yong-chun, who was named by Kim as the new defense minister last year, Kim Yong-il, Workers’ Party’s international department head, and First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju, who is responsible for Pyongyang’s nuclear policy, will likely accompany Kim, experts said.

Sources in China said Kim’s travel itinerary will be very simple, taking into account his health conditions. Kim is reported to have suffered a stroke in 2008.

The train trip from Pyongyang to Beijing takes 25 hours, and Kim’s special train is expected to take about 19 hours.

By Chang Se-jung, Ser Myo-ja []
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