By Sam Kim
SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- Following his secretive visit to China, the world's second-largest economy and an indispensable political ally, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will likely embark on a set of steps showing he is easing his country's isolation, analysts said Thursday.
Such moves, however, should not be taken as being tantamount to ones that can put an end to North Korea's extreme poverty and nuclear ambitions, they said, because the regime is afraid of any real change of course that may undermine its odds of survival.
After most of his six previous trips to China as Pyongyang's ruler, Kim green-lighted either economic reforms or political deals with foes such as South Korea. A month after his first journey to Beijing in 2000, when he praised China's readjustment toward a market economy, Kim held a summit with then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung. In 2006, when Kim made his fourth trip to China, senior North Korean officials came up with a string of proposals for more market-oriented policies.
Most of the reforms eventually bogged down, said Han Ki-bum, a researcher at the state-run Korean Institute for National Reunification, as North Korea's power elites would not ease their grip on exclusive rights to political and economic resources when a market economy actually meant the decentralization of power.
"Especially with Kim now trying to hand his power to son Jong-un, it's unlikely that new reforms can take off because he needs all the power he can muster," Han said.
"Kim will make ostensible efforts toward reforms for the sake of drawing aid and investment from China," he said, adding the 69-year-old's tour of economic facilities in China was "superficial."
Kim, who has been working to hand his power down to his third son since last September, has traveled across northeastern China since last Friday in his seventh trip to the neighboring ally since taking over the regime from his father in 1994.
Kim has toured major economic facilities, including a vehicle manufacturer, a warehouse outlet and electronics factories, since the beginning of his Chinese trip aboard an armored train.
North Korea and China rarely confirm Kim's trip until he returns home. He departed from Beijing on Thursday, heading north apparently towards China's northeastern region bordering North Korea.
Kim Yong-hyun, a Dongguk University professor, agreed that the trip that culminated with a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday was mainly aimed at drawing Beijing's countenance.
"But North Korea will be pressed to ease its diplomatic intransigence if it wants to gain greater economic support from China," he said.
China is host to the stalled six-party talks that seek to denuclearize North Korea through diplomatic and economic support. China proposed earlier in the year a three-step plan toward the resumption of the talks, saying the nuclear envoys of the two Koreas should first hold dialogue.
The talks also include the U.S., Russia and Japan. They have not been held since 2008.
The analysts, however, said North Korea should not be expected to make full-scale efforts toward denuclearization, because the regime believes its nuclear arms guarantee the best chances of survival, a notion even China has found difficult to pull the North from.
North Korea remains China's key buffer state. The two countries fought on the same side in the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in a truce, leaving them technically at war with the United States and South Korea.
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