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China and North Korea deepen ties during Kim Jong Il visit

The two countries seemingly renew their vows as communist brethren, with China's Hu Jintao promising to help develop his ally's economy and North Korea's leader expressing a desire to resume nuclear talks.

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

August 31, 2010

Reporting from Beijing

Chinese President Hu Jintao promised North Korean leader Kim Jong Il help in developing the North's economy and Kim spoke of his desire to restart nuclear talks during a summit Friday in the northeastern Chinese city of Changchun, the Chinese government said Monday.

The belated announcement put an end to a five-day state visit that was bizarrely secretive even by the standards of the 68-year-old Kim, one of the world's most reclusive rulers. Kim slipped across the border into China in his armored train early Thursday, eluding detection by border residents and journalists and giving a very public snub to former President Carter, who was in Pyongyang to successfully win the release of Aijalon Mahli Gomes, an American held since January for illegally entering the country.

The message from Pyongyang appeared to be that North Korea has given up trying to mend fences with the United States and will concentrate on its relationship with its main patron, China.

In Washington, President Obama issued an executive order that broadens sanctions against Pyongyang with punishment for any North Korean or international company or individual that aids the country with arms trafficking, money laundering, counterfeiting, cash smuggling or import of banned luxury goods.

The U.S. government identified four North Korean individuals and eight organizations for punishment, including the mysterious "Office 39," a bureau U.S. officials say is involved in managing funds to pay for luxury goods for the government elite.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in July that the United States would toughen sanctions in response to what U.S. officials believe was North Korea's sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan, in which 46 sailors died.

In contrast, it appears that China and North Korea have renewed their vows as communist brethren, a bond forged in the 1950s when China intervened on the North's behalf in the Korean War.

"Through this visit, the [North Korean] side had yet another in-depth experience of the preciousness … of the friendship created by older generations of revolutionaries of both countries," Kim was quoted by China's official New China News Agency as telling Hu. Kim also was reported to have said he "hoped for an early resumption" of long-stalled six-nation talks about dismantling North Korea's nuclear program, but there was no mention of a concrete pledge on the timing.

The Chinese government is believed to be pressing for the North's return to the talks — which involve those two nations, the U.S., Russia, South Korea and Japan — as a condition for an infusion of desperately needed economic assistance as well as such essentials as food, fuel and fertilizer. According to the news agency, Hu implicitly criticized North Korea's refusal to reform its economy.

"Economic development … cannot be achieved without cooperating with the outside world," he was quoted as telling Kim. "This is the inevitable route to going with the tide of the times and to accelerating development of a country."

There was no mention in the statement of whether Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader's youngest son and heir apparent, had accompanied his father on the trip, although South Korean media reported so earlier.

However, Kim Jong Il was accompanied by a sizable delegation of other top officials, including his brother-in-law Jang Song Taek, the second-most powerful figure in the country, who is expected to serve as a regent for Kim's twentysomething son in the event of Kim's death. Kim is in poor health, and the trip to China was thought to be aimed at solidifying the relationship with China in what could be a difficult transition period.

Anticipating criticism that China is coddling one of the world's most criticized dictatorships, the Chinese state press broke days of imposed silence on the Kim visit with a flurry of editorials defending the relationship.

"A stable relationship with North Korea does not mean China has to be an enemy of Japan, South Korea or the U.S.," said the Global Times, a daily newspaper with ties to the Communist Party.