Kim Jong-un the marshal became Kim Jong-un the statesman as he met with Chinese political dignitaries in meetings that marked his first official foray into foreign affairs since becoming North Korea’s leader.
Kim told Wang Jiarui (王家瑞), head of the Chinese Communist Party’s international affairs office, that his government is focused on building the economy, and then invited the Chinese delegation to a banquet on Thursday, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
The Korean Central News Agency reported the meeting without details on their discussions.
The occasion was Kim’s diplomatic debut as leader of North Korea, seven months after he took power following the December death of his father, longtime leader Kim Jong-il.
Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be 29, has been swift in moving to build loyalty among North Korea’s 24 million people and to establish control over key institutions such as the military and the ruling Workers’ Party.
He also has been quick to show his rule will differ in style from that of his father, who kept his personal life out of the state media, rarely traveled abroad and met only selectively with foreign dignitaries.
After gaining the new title of marshal and shuffling the military leadership last month, Kim Jong-un made the surprise introduction of his wife, Ri Sol-ju. Kim also has emphasized raising the standard of living as a main goal of his leadership, an objective laid out for him by his father.
“Developing the economy and improving livelihoods so that the [North] Korean people lead happy and civilized lives is the goal the Workers’ Party is struggling toward,” Xinhua reported Kim as telling Wang.
The talks took place as swaths of North Korean farms remained submerged after heavy rains. Scores were killed and tens of thousands lost their homes in fierce storms last month, state media said.
The UN World Food Program said yesterday that it was sending a first shipment of emergency food aid to flood-ravaged parts of the country. Earlier this year, the UN said two-thirds of North Korea’s 24 million were coping with chronic food shortages.
Kim’s choice to host the Chinese comes as no surprise. China poured troops into North Korea to help fight the US-led UN forces during the 1950-1953 Korean War and remains Pyongyang’s main ally and biggest benefactor.
Though the relationship has been cool at times, with Pyongyang periodically snubbing the nation that considers itself a big brother to tiny North Korea, ties have deepened in recent years as North Korea has become increasingly reliant on China for much-needed food, oil and trade.
North Korea has looked to China for pointers on how to develop the economy within its socialist system. During his 17-year rule, Kim Jong-il rarely traveled abroad. However, he made an exception for China, traveling there by train four times in the last two years of his life.
Wang, a regular visitor to Pyongyang, met with Kim Jong-il during his visit to China August last year. Also at the table on Thursday was Kang Sok-ju, the seasoned North Korean diplomat who accompanied Kim on the China trip.
Kim Jong-un has yet to make his first trip abroad as leader but appears to be molding himself on his grandfather, North Korea founder Kim Il-sung, who traveled regularly overseas and mingled comfortably with foreign diplomats and journalists.