North Korean official’s visit to China hints at growing ties

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North Korean official’s visit to China hints at growing ties

BEIJING - A top North Korean economic official began a trip to China on Monday, another sign that the two countries are seeking to expand economic cooperation.

Ku Bon-tae, the North’s vice minister of external economic affairs, arrived on an Air Koryo plane and was quickly whisked away in a Chinese vehicle. A North Korean embassy car followed behind.

Ku will likely meet with Chinese officials to discuss economic partnerships in agriculture, electricity and rail as well as development assistance.

“The trip by the vice minister of external economic affairs, not an official from the Foreign Ministry, is a show of the will of North Korea and China to seek economic cooperation in earnest,” a diplomatic source in Beijing said.

Another source, however, was cautious about the scope of any joint economic projects, citing UN-led sanctions on North Korea. “The UN Security Council resolution is still valid,” the source said, “and there’s no change in China’s position that it will do its basic duty, so the lifting of sanctions is unthinkable. [Ku’s visit] is rather part of exchanges and communication between North Korea and China, just like the inter-Korean exchanges.”

Ku’s visit comes less than two weeks after the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, traveled to the Chinese capital. During his two-day stay in Beijing last month, Kim had his third known summit with President Xi Jinping and toured the Sci-tech Innovation Institute under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and a Beijing city subway system control center.

Ku attended the opening ceremony of the Shanghai World Expo in 2010 and also led Pyongyang’s delegation to a Northeast Asian trade fair in the Chinese province of Jilin, close to the border with the North, in the same year. He was also present at a meeting between the North’s foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in Pyongyang in May.

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