Academic exchanges on the rise in North, China

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Academic exchanges on the rise in North, China

An influx of academic exchanges between North Korea and China has been seen after Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as the leader of the isolated regime, including most recently an exchange on national security.

The Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang invited six Chinese experts to its first seminar to discuss foreign affairs and national security on Wednesday, said a source that specializes in Sino-North Korean affairs.

While academic exchanges with China in various sectors, including economy and culture, have occurred before, experts surmise this is the first time discussion on the sensitive topics of foreign affairs and national security has been initiated.

The source said that of the six professors invited to the academic seminar, there was a Japan foreign affairs expert from Beijing’s Renmin University of China and an Asian-Pacific regional researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“North Korea is for the first time officially inviting foreign affairs and national security experts, which offers a glimpse into its recently changed attitude,” said a North Korea source yesterday.

There are other activities indicating that the young North Korean leader is at least open to reform from his late father’s regime.

North Korea recently sent six economists to a farm in Shandong Province in eastern China to study agriculture, and several party officials and bureaucrats to train at Jilin University, a national university in northeastern China, says a Chinese specialist.

The interest in development of the agriculture industry reflects the ongoing famine in North Korea. Kim stated in April during a speech, “Never again will the people have to tighten their belts” to improve the livelihood of the people.

Some 300 North Koreans were set to study at a university in Shanghai last year, but Kim Jong-il’s death on Dec. 17, 2011, prevented the training from happening, said the source. The project will likely resume this year.

Jang Song-thaek, vice chairman of the North’s National Defense Commission and uncle to Kim Jong-un, visited China between Aug. 13 and 18 for economic cooperation and signaled North Korea’s efforts to patch up diplomatic relations with its neighbor after they deteriorated with the North’s long-range ballistic rocket launch in April.

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

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