North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s armored train reached Beijing yesterday, setting the stage for a summit with China’s leaders that he will hope is a show of support from Asia’s biggest economy for him and his isolated state.
Neither China nor North Korea has openly confirmed Kim’s visit, but after his train arrived, a motorcade swept down central Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue under unusually tight police guard, suggesting the secretive Kim was in the Chinese capital.
This would be the third trip to China in just over a year for Kim, who in past years rarely traveled abroad and then only in his personal train, as he is believed to be scared of flying.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Kim was there “apparently for a summit meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤),” who received Kim on both his visits last year.
Impoverished North Korea has been scouring the world for food aid and analysts say Kim is keen to ensure China’s support for his youngest son to eventually take over the family dynasty that has ruled the North since its founding.
Kim will also want diplomatic support, said Cai Jian (蔡建), a professor of Korean studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
“It’s unlikely, but not out of question, that a national leader would directly stretch out his hand for economic aid,” Cai said. “So I would think that what he’s seeking is more diplomatic and political support. For example, in dealing with South Korea and the United States.”
As ties with South Korea and most of the outside world have soured, Pyongyang has been forced to rely increasingly on Beijing for economic and diplomatic support.
“He seems to want to tacitly remind China’s current leadership of their solidarity and call on them to fulfill their obligation as a big brother,” said a South Korean newspaper, the JoongAng daily. “That’s in sharp contrast with the Chinese government’s purpose of inviting Kim — to stress economic reform.”
Beijing sees North Korea as a buffer against the US and its regional allies. Last year, trade between China and North Korea grew to US$3.5 billion, up 29.6 percent from 2009, according to Chinese customs data. China’s trade with South Korea was US$207.2 billion.
China, keen to keep North Korea from collapse, has also prodded Pyongyang’s leaders to launch economic reforms.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) told South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Tokyo at the weekend that Kim was in China to study “economic development,” Yonhap reported, citing a South Korean presidential aide.
“At most, he could learn from China to carry out some limited reforms that would help North Korea overcome some difficulties, but a big jump-start in development is not possible,” Cai said.