Kim Jong-il Tours China as U.S. Delegation Pays Humanitarian Visit to Pyongyang

With North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on his third visit to China in a year, observers are expressing optimism that finally the “Dear Leader” may be ready to implement significant economic reforms to his impoverished country. For the Globe and Mail, Mark MacKinnon argues otherwise and says similar visits to China over the past decade have not yielded any obvious results for the North Korean people:

The day before he arrived in Nanjing, Mr. Kim and his entourage reportedly visited an industrial park and a discount store in the city of Yangzhou. The next stop is believed to be Shanghai, the most spectacular example of China’s economic transformation over the past two decades.

All this has lead to the usual speculation: is Mr. Kim preparing to finally introduce desperately needed reforms to his country’s economy? Is he about to open North Korea up, to China if not the rest of the world?

And then you check the archives. As far back as the turn of the century, there were excited articles about Mr. Kim’s trips to China, what he might learn there and how that might open the megalomaniac dictator’s mind to possible change in his own country.

“We see reform and openness as a trend of the era and believe that the development the Chinese government achieved through economic reform policy will serve as a reference to North Korea’s economic development,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a hopeful response to a 2001 visit Mr. Kim made to Shanghai.

Ten years later, and the more telling news is that a U.S. team landed in Pyongyang Tuesday to investigate reports that another famine may be developing there, the worst since somewhere between 900,000 and 3.5 million North Koreans starved to death in the early 1990s.

The Guardian has details about Kim’s visit to a solar photovoltaic manufacturing plant:

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, is exploring the potential of solar energy amid a debilitating dispute over his country’s nuclear power programme.

On a visit this week to China, North Korea’s main ally and aid donor, Kim requested a tour of a solar photovoltaic manufacturing plant in Yangzhou between meetings with senior Communist officials and a trip to a shopping mall.

Workers at JA Solar Holdings were told to stay at home while Kim looked around their factory.

“Apart from those involved in the visit, everyone was given the day off,” an employee said. “I can’t tell you any more about it due to company regulations.”

Meanwhile, while Kim and his entourage are in China, a U.S. delegation is traveling to Pyongyang to investigate reports of a rapidly diminishing food supply. From AFP:

After an exceptionally harsh winter, the North early this year appealed to its historic enemy the United States and a variety of other countries for food.

UN agencies who visited in February said six million people — a quarter of the population — need urgent aid in a nation where hundreds of thousands died in a famine in the 1990s.

Samaritan’s Purse, one of five US groups that visited the North the same month, said the harsh winter had reduced crop yields by up to half and some people were already eating grass, leaves and tree bark to survive.

But some South Korean officials are sceptical about the need, suspecting the regime wants to stockpile supplies before the 100th anniversary next year of the birth of founding leader Kim Il-Sung.

May 24, 2011 1:21 PM
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