Opening up and reform are keyThe motive behind North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s third visit to China in just over a year seems to be in search of an economic breakthrough with the world’s second largest economy and North Korea’s sole benefactor amid soured relations with South Korea and other parts of the world.
Kim also appears to have sought reassurance and blessings from Beijing for his plan to hand over power to his youngest son and continue dynastic rule. Beijing’s endorsement would legitimize the throne succession to veiled heir-in-waiting Kim Jong-un at home and abroad.
But has Kim returned home satisfied? China’s warm welcome - that included a banquet dinner with Chinese President Hu Jintao and other key Politburo members - suggests his trip may have been fruitful. Yet a few other signs indicate otherwise.
Unlike in the past when China heavily guarded and shielded Kim’s travel in chauffeured trains and convoys of sedans, Beijing did not clamp down on public complaints against disturbance and traffic control due to Kim’s arrival. Also, in an unusual step, Beijing notified Seoul of Kim Jong-il’s visit in advance.
The media coverage by the two countries - which takes place usually after Kim returns home in confirmation of his visit - also differed slightly. North Korea’s mouthpiece Korea Central News Agency quoted Kim as telling Chinese leaders that mutual ties were “unbreakable” and friendship should last generation after generation. But China’s Xinhua News Agency stopped short of sharing KCNA’s positions and mostly accentuated the need for the reclusive and impoverished country to promote economic and social development.
Chinese leaders are said to be reiterating that bilateral economic cooperation should be strictly based on economic principles and they almost turned a deaf ear to North Korea’s pleas for one-sided aid.
On the surface, China’s gestures are all-friendly and brotherly to North Korea and its leader Kim, but turns no-nonsense when it comes to financial and other practical matters. With its new rank as the world’s second largest economy, China may be starting to demand global standards from North Korea.
Their “blood-sealed” ties may shake if North Korea refuses to change its reclusive and self-exile style and resists international norms. Kim may have returned home with many thoughts. But he must realize that there is only one way, which is to open up and become reformed.