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(News Focus) N. Korea's successor to seek greater diplomatic profile: experts
SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- Having emerged half a year ago as successor to his aging father, North Korea's mysterious leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un may now be hoping to vaunt his diplomatic skills as his impoverished country seeks improved ties with the wider world, experts said.

   Kim, believed to be 29 at most, was unveiled to the world as a four-star general ahead of a ruling party convention in September last year. The youngest known son of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un has since accompanied his father in an array of activities, including economic and military inspections.

Kim Jong-un (AP-Yonhap file photo)

South Korean analysts say the Swiss-educated man, about whom little else is known, could be promoted higher when North Korea opens a parliamentary session on April 7. Kim, a vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party, may even be gearing up to join the National Defense Commission, the highest seat of power led by Kim Jong-il, they say.

   Cheong Seong-chang, an expert at Sejong Institute, said Kim Jong-un appears to have solidified his domestic political position enough and will soon flex his muscles in diplomatic affairs.

   "Kim Jong-un will try to show off his diplomatic skills internally by drawing economic aid from China," North Korea's top benefactor, Cheong said.

   The first mention of Kim Jong-un by a Chinese official came in a report by North Korea's official news agency in mid-February when it said Meng Jianzhu, Chinese state councilor and public security minister, hailed his election as successor to Kim Jong-il.

   Media reports have since abounded, speculating Kim Jong-un would soon visit China on a trip aimed at clinching China's recognition for his rise. In an interview with Yonhap News Agency, South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said on Feb. 22 that the chance of Kim Jong-un visiting China is "ever present," considering the favorable state of ties between the two communist allies.


"This year is a good time for Kim Jong-un to visit China," considering generational power transfers likely in both countries next year, Kim Heung-kyu, a political science professor at Seoul's Sungshin Women's University, said, arguing such a trip would help the North secure continued military and economic support from China.

   Cho Myung-chul, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy and a former Kim Il-sung University professor, said the North may also seek better relations with countries other than China because relying solely on Beijing would leave Pyongyang with little room to diplomatically maneuver.

   "If North Korea relies excessively on China's assistance, the problem of subordination may arise," Cho said.

   The key to resolving the problem is to get stalled international nuclear talks going, analysts say. The resumption of the six-party denuclearization-for-aid talks, which China chairs, would allow the North to seek other sources of aid to relieve its economic troubles.

   "The only way for North Korea to draw investors from worldwide is for it to drop its nuclear programs and open up to reforms," Cho said, discounting chances of any immediate economic improvement in North Korea even if the six-party talks reopened.

   North Korea told a visiting ranking Russian diplomat last week that it was ready to "unconditionally" rejoin the six-way talks that also include South Korea and the United States.

   The move brightened the prospect for the resumption of the talks that were last held in December 2008. North Korea also said through its official Korean Central News Agency that it does not oppose discussing within the six-party talks its modern uranium enrichment project that it had unveiled as late as in November last year.

   North Korea bolted from the six-party talks in 2009 when it drew world condemnation for its long-range rocket launch, seen as a missile test in essence. The country has since shown a willingness to return to the talks, pledging to work toward denuclearization.

   South Korea, Japan and the U.S. demand the North first show through action its guarantee that it will not relapse into provocative behavior or resume nuclear arms development.