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NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 222 (August 9, 2012)

N. Korean Leader Kim Jong-un Holds First Meeting with Foreign Delegation

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met a senior Chinese official in Pyongyang on Aug. 2, his first reception of a foreign guest since taking power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il last December.

   Kim held talks with Wang Jiarui, the head of the International Liaison Department of China's Communist Party, and other Chinese officials, the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a dispatch on Aug. 3
It was Kim's first confirmed reception of a foreign dignitary as the country's leader since he took over power following his father's death. Since ascending to power, Kim has not paid a visit to foreign countries.

   "During the meeting, Wang conveyed greetings from the collective leadership of China, including General Secretary Hu Jintao," the KCNA noted.
The Chinese official also asserted his country's policy to strengthen the long-time ties between the two countries and expressed his belief that the "Sino-DPRK (North Korea) friendship would bloom more beautifully and yield rich fruits," according to the KCNA.

   In response, Kim expressed his gratefulness, the North's official news agency said, adding they had "a cordial and friendly talk," which was followed by a dinner party.

   The meeting marks Kim's official debut in diplomacy as he moves to cement his partnership with China, the North's strongest ally and a major source of foreign income.

   According to China's official Xinhua News Agency, Kim told Wang that the top priority of the regime is to improve the local economy so that North Koreans can enjoy "happy and civilized lives."

   Xinhua quoted Wang as saying in the meeting, "The two sides should also enhance strategic communication and coordination on major global and regional issues, and make unremitting efforts to safeguard peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and achieve lasting peace in Northeast Asia."

   The Chinese news agency also reported that Kim and the Chinese officials discussed developing diplomatic ties between the two countries and quoted Kim as saying it was the "unswerving will" of North Korea to deepen the bilateral friendship.

   Kim Jong-un's wife, Ri Sol-ju, did not appear in KCNA broadcasts of the meeting.

   Neither the Chinese nor the North Korean news agencies mentioned whether Kim would make his first official visit to China or whether Kim will resume the stalled six-party talks to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

   Speculation is high that the young leader appears be turning his attention to foreign affairs and enhancing diplomatic ties with the North's closest ally.

   Though Kim Jong-un has yet to take a trip abroad as leader, analysts say his first will likely be a visit to the socialist state's main benefactor China.

   Wang made his last visit to Pyongyang in 2010 when the late leader Kim Jong-il was in power. He reportedly discussed pending issues with North Korean officials such as deadlocked inter-Korean relations and the six-party talks. Three months after Wang's visit, then-leader Kim took a trip to Beijing.

   It was a past practice that when high-ranking Chinese officials visited Pyongyang, there were always high-level meetings or a Beijing-Pyongyang summit that followed.

   "So it is highly expected that Kim and Hu Jintao will possibly meet with each other this fall, especially ahead of the Russia-held Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation," Kim Yeon-soo, a professor at Korea National Defense University, told a local newspaper.

   At his first solo diplomatic debut, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was accompanied by a string of officials. Among them was Kim Yang-gon, a ruling party secretary who is in charge of dealing with inter-Korean cooperation and who accompanied late leader Kim Jong-il to the 2007 inter-Korean summit.

   Kim Yang-gon has also broad knowledge and experience in relations with China, according to experts.

   Prof. Kim said, "Recently, Secretary Kim Yang-gon frequently appears to accompany Kim Jong-un at many official events, raising speculation that the leader has much interest in recovering the inter-Korean cooperation and learning about current affairs in the South."

   Other key officials at present at the meeting were Kang Sok-ju, the vice premier of the Cabinet, and Kim Song-nam, the vice director of the international department of the ruling Workers' Party.

   Kang Sok-ju played the leading role in negotiations with the United States on the nuclear weapons program for 24 years. He acted as the chief delegate to the U.S.-North Korea talks after the North's nuclear program started in the early 1990s.

   He was the author of the Geneva Framework Agreement reached in 1994 with the United States. And then he was promoted to vice premier in September 2010 after serving as first-vice foreign minister.

   But watchers said Kang's attendance at the latest meeting in Pyongyang was aimed at discussing economic cooperation with China, rather than handling nuclear diplomacy with China and the United States.

   Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said that he will work for the promotion of economic affairs between the two countries as he has not recently played any role on the country's nuclear issue.

   Kang accompanied the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il when he visited China in 2010 and 2011.

   It is also notable that new key officials close to Kim Jong-un attended the dinner party the North Korean leader hosted for the visiting Wang and his delegation.

   Attending the dinner were Choe Ryong-hae, the Political Bureau chief of the (North) Korean People's Army; Jang Song-thaek, the vice chairman of the National Defense Commission, who is the uncle of the North Korean leader; Mun Kyong-dok, the party secretary; and other key officials.

   Attracting the most attention among the North Korean participants was Ri Su-yong, the vice chairman of the Central Committee of the ruling party. He formerly served as ambassador to Geneva under the name of Ri Chol when leader Kim Jong-un was studying in Switzerland.

   Back in Pyongyang, Ri became the chairman of the Joint Venture Investment Commission, which was in charge of joint ventures and investment with foreign countries. But early this year, he was replaced by Ri Kwang-kun.

   It was known that Ri is involved with Egyptian business tycoon Orascom's North Korea business such as the launching of the mobile phone operation, and the resumption of construction on Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang. Additionally, Ri is known to have handled many other economic cooperation projects with China.

   In this sense, Ri's attendance to the dinner indicates that the two countries will further strengthen economic cooperation projects under Kim Jong-un's leadership.

   China has invested in special economic zones in the North and its businesses are active there with a special interest in natural resources.

   Though Pyongyang has moved to balance its reliance on China by strengthening ties with Russia and some Southeast Asian nations, Beijing remains by far the North's main source of trade, aid and diplomatic support.
Beijing, which values stability on its border, wants regional players to return to the stalled denuclearization talks.

   China has been pushing its neighbor to reign in its provocative behavior, including refraining from carrying out a third nuclear test following a failed long-range rocket launch in April.

   The North moved toward resuming the six-party talks in February by agreeing to suspend its uranium enrichment program at the nuclear facility in Yongbyon and other steps in return for food aid from the United States. But it scuttled the deal with the rocket launch seen as a test of ballistic missile technology.