*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)
Kim Jong-il Makes Surprise Visit to China, Holds Summit with Hu Jintao
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-il made a surprise trip to China late last month, where he held summit talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao in what appeared to be reinforcement of their traditional friendship and deepening economic cooperation.
Kim's abrupt visit to the neighboring country also came at a sensitive time ahead of his nation's crucial ruling party meeting in early September, and as regional tension and enmity has soared to a level unseen for years, particularly since the South Korean warship Cheonan sank in March.
The 68-year-old Kim embarked on the five-day trip to China on Aug. 26, just three months after his last visit to his country's closest ally, an unusual move by the reclusive leader who rarely travels abroad.
Neither Beijing nor Pyongyang officially mentioned Kim's trip to China until he returned home on Aug. 30. Beijing broke its silence about Kim's tour only minutes after he crossed the Tumen River on the afternoon of Aug. 30 to return to Pyongyang.
As Kim returned home, official media in North Korea and China announced that the leaders of their sides affirmed deepening ties and promised greater cooperation. In his summit talks with Hu in Jilin on Aug. 27, Kim called for reopening international nuclear talks while stressing the importance of youth in leading the North's relations with China, according to the official news agencies of the two countries on Aug. 30.
"With the international situation remaining complicated, it is our important historical mission to hand over to the rising generation the baton of the traditional friendship passed over by the revolutionary forerunners of the two countries as a precious asset so as to carry it forward through generations," Kim said at a banquet with Chinese President Hu Jintao, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
By the "rising generation," Kim is believed to be referring to his plan to hand power over to his youngest son, Jong-un, which would mark the second-ever hereditary transfer of power in the socialist country. Kim himself took over the family dynasty after his father and late national founder Kim Il-sung died in 1994.
Analysts have said that the succession issue must have been a focus of Kim's latest trip as the itinerary included a pilgrimage to sites considered holy in North Korea for the anti-Japanese activity of Kim Il-sung, who is still revered as eternal president amid a strong cult of personality.
China's Xinhua news agency said that Kim hoped for an early resumption of the six-nation talks on the country's nuclear programs at a summit with the Chinese president on Aug. 27. It also quoted Kim saying that North Korea's stance on adhering to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula had remained unchanged, and the country "is not willing to see tensions on the peninsula."
But the KCNA made no mention of the nuclear talks in its dispatches on the outcome of Kim's latest trip, only saying that the two sides had a "frank and sincere exchange of views" on international and regional issues, and "reached a full consensus of views."
The nuclear talks have been stalled since the last session in late 2008 due to Pyongyang's boycott. The prospects of reopening the forum have been further overshadowed by North Korea's deadly sinking of the Cheonan in March.
Media reports have speculated that Kim's heir apparent, Jong-un, accompanied his father on the trip. But there was no mention by Xinhua or the KCNA of the secrecy-shrouded son who is believed to be 27 years old. China said Jong-un's name was not on the official list of Kim's entourage.
The trip also came just weeks before North Korea's ruling Workers' Party holds a rare leadership convention in early September where Kim's son is expected to be given a key party post. Kim is said to have accelerated the succession process after he suffered a stroke in 2008.
"Steadily developing the friendship through generations is an important issue in defending peace and security in Northeast Asia and the rest of the world," Kim said at the banquet with Hu. "It is an unswerving policy of our party and government to further develop through generations and centuries Korea-China friendship, which has overcome all sorts of hardship through history."
Kim's trip also came as a surprise because he left Pyongyang while former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was in the North to secure the release of a jailed American citizen. By refusing to meet Carter and instead heading to China, Kim appears to have sought to show the strength of Pyongyang-Beijing ties and send a clear message that his regime will not bow to U.S. pressure, analysts said.
Carter arrived in Pyongyang on Aug. 25 to win the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, who had been detained in the North since January for illegal entry. Carter headed home Aug. 27 with the freed American.
Analysts said China has secured momentum to expand its clout in the region by apparently embracing isolated North Korea and its succession scheme, while Pyongyang has increased its chances of surviving deepening sanctions against it in the latest summit.
The summit, held in secrecy on Aug. 27 in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun, underscored the growing need for Pyongyang to turn to its traditional ally for a reprieve from the pressure that South Korea and the United States have mounted on it for months.
Since May, when a South Korean- and U.S.-led multinational investigation found North Korea responsible for the sinking of the Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors, North Korea has vehemently denied its role and threatened war for any punishment.
South Korea has nonetheless gone ahead with large-scale naval exercises in the region, sometimes teaming up with the U.S. -- and also raising the hackles of the leadership in Beijing.
Xinhua news agency summarized the conversation between the two leaders which exposed what the two allies wanted from each other.
First, Hu called for the maintenance of high-level contact on a regular basis. Second, the two leaders agreed that bilateral trade and economic cooperation should be advanced through market operations at the initiative of enterprises under government guidance. Third, they concurred that strategic communication should be strengthened via prompt, thorough and in-depth dialogues to cope with regional and international situations.
Kim crossed into China around midnight Aug. 25 aboard his luxurious personal train. On Aug. 26, Kim paid a visit to Jilin's Yuwen Middle School, which his father, Kim Il-sung, attended for two and a half years starting in 1927. Kim also visited Beishan Park in Jilin where the remains of anti-Japanese independence fighters are buried.
North Korea has lavishly lauded Kim Il-sung for his anti-Japanese activities during the 1910-45 colonial rule. The late leader, who founded North Korea in 1948, is still worshipped even after his death in 1994.
After his trip to Jilin, Kim Jong-il arrived in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun on the night of Aug. 27. Earlier in the day, Kim toured an agriculture exhibition site and an agricultural university in the city, multiple sources said, adding that extremely tight security caused traffic jams on major roads.
Details on Kim's trip to China were largely concealed. A Japanese television camera captured a blurred image of Kim walking, guarded by security agents, out of a hotel in Jilin Province.
On Aug. 29, Kim Jong-il stopped over in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, on his way home. Kim arrived in the city at midnight and stayed near the Songhua River before paying a visit to a historic site there symbolic of the anti-Japanese movement by Kim Il-sung, sources in the city said.
On Aug. 30, Kim stopped by a northeastern Chinese city briefly to pay tribute to his late father, remembered there as an anti-imperialism hero, sources said.
The visit to a monument honoring North Korea's founder Kim Il-sung in the city of Mudanjiang was the latest move by the ailing North Korean leader to highlight the heritage his family bears as the rulers of the impoverished communist state for decades.
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