Fri, Jan 20, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Kim Jong-il completes secretive visit to China

MYSTERY NO MOREDays of speculation ended as Beijing and Pyongyang confirmed the visit by the North Korean leader, who took an intense interest in China's economic progress

NY TIMES NEW SERVICE , BEIJING

In this framegrab taken from Chinese television on Wednesday, Chinese President Hu Jintao, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il toast during a banquet at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

PHOTO: AP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il completed an eight-day visit on Wednesday that was notable for his intensive focus on China's booming economy and for the enigmatic air of secrecy that enshrouded his every move.

Chinese and North Korean state media made nearly simultaneous announcements of Kim's visit late on Wednesday afternoon after more than a week of rampant speculation in regional media about the North Korean leader's itinerary that both countries repeatedly declined to confirm or deny.

Both sides termed the clandestine trip unofficial, but gave no reason why they chose to use that term.

China's main national television news detailed Kim's schedule, which it said included separate meetings with President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and all other eight members of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee, as well as high-profile tours of two Chinese provinces, the trappings of an elaborate state visit that would normally involve extensive media coverage.

The stealthiness may underscore North Korea's insecurity, but it also shows China's determination to coddle its neighbor and perhaps coax it to embrace Chinese-style economic reforms, analysts said.

Beijing is also eager to keep North Korea engaged in multinational talks about its nuclear program, which have proceeded sporadically over more than two years and have yet to achieve a concrete result. Both countries reiterated their commitment to the talks, but offered no tangible sign that talks would resume soon.

North Korea's state news agency said the two countries "unanimously agreed to maintain the stand of seeking a negotiated peaceful solution" to the nuclear issue. Hu reiterated that the stalled six-nation talks remain the "correct way" to solve the nuclear standoff, the New China News Agency said.

The North Korean agency said Kim mentioned that the talks faced difficulties.

The country has declined to set a date for a new round of talks unless the US agrees to withdraw financial sanctions.

But it quoted Kim as saying that North Korea "would join Chinese comrades in efforts to seek a way of overcoming the difficulties lying in the way of the six-party talks."

Separately, the top US negotiator in the talks, Christopher Hill, made a brief and apparently unscheduled return trip to Beijing on Wednesday at the tail end of a visit to the region, prompting speculation that China arranged a consultation session between him and Kim Kye-gwan, his North Korean counterpart, who was thought to be traveling with Kim Jong-il.

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