China may donate food to North in a big way

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China may donate food to North in a big way

BEIJING - China could possibly provide hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid to North Korea, as part of efforts to help the power transition of successor Kim Jong-un in the impoverished regime, a source in Beijing told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

“After the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, China wants stability for its ally and expressed its will to play a necessary role in it,” the source said. “Due to this, it seems that food assistance will take place.”

Asked about the expected size of the aid, the source speculated, “Although China hasn’t made a final decision on it, considering previous Chinese assistance it could reach up to hundreds of thousands of tons.”

“And the assistance would take place before March or April, before the spring season, when famine is the worst,” the source added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin also said at a briefing held on Tuesday that “we want the international communities to offer aid to North Korea, just like China,” when asked to confirm a Japanese report that the North recently asked China to offer 1 million tons of food assistance marking the 100th anniversary of founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15.

The source in Beijing said that North Korea could convene a high-level, behind-the-scenes talk with its closest ally, to discuss not only food aid but how to participate in Kim’s power transition.

“It seems that the North Korean regime will send high-ranking delegates to China as soon as its internal political circumstance settles down,” the source said. “We see Kim’s uncle Jang Song-thaek, who is in charge of managing special economic zones in Sinuiju and Rason, as the right person to deliver North Korea’s messages at the negotiation table with China.”

However, the source said it’s unlikely that Chinese President Hu Jintao would make his visit to the North.

“President Hu Jintao could possibly visit North Korea before his term ends, but even if he does come, a bilateral meeting only between party members of the two countries would be held, according to diplomatic customs,” the source said.

But if Kim, who is currently vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission, is promoted to general secretary of the party, which is equal to President Hu’s role in China, it would create an opportunity for a bilateral summit between Hu and Kim.

When North Korean founder Kim Il Sung died in 1994, China reportedly gave food aid to the North. The United Nation’s World Food Program recently said a quarter of North Korea’s 24 million people are suffering from lack of food.


By Chang Se-jeong [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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