China, DPRK Vow to Develop Economic Ties

As a visit to Beijing by Kim Jong-Un’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, comes to an end, China Daily reports that China and North Korea vow to develop economic ties:

China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said on Friday that they would push forward in developing economic zones.

The message came during a meeting between Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and a DPRK delegation headed by Jang Song Thaek, chief of the central administrative department of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Wen said the government would continue to push bilateral ties forward, support DPRK to improve its economy and people’s well-being. He is confident the country will also make progress in national development.

Jang said Kim Jong Un, top leader of DPRK, attached importance to the bilateral relations, believing the friendship will be passed from generation to generation.

Aside from developing joint economic projects, Wen has urged Pyongyang to allow the market to revamp North Korea’s economy. From Reuters:

Premier Wen Jiabao encouraged North Korea to allow “market mechanisms” help revamp its economy, state media said on Saturday, and laid down other pre-conditions as China tries to wean its impoverished ally off its dependence on Chinese aid.

As well as allowing freer rein to market forces, the Chinese premier also recommended Pyongyang encourage economic growth by improving laws and regulations, encouraging business investment and reforming its customs services.

Beijing has had difficulty managing the relationship with North Korea, which it views as a strategically critical buffer between itself and U.S. military forces in South Korea.
But North Korea is often more cantankerous than China would like, in particular towards South Korea, even though the economic relationship between China and South Korea is far more important. Bilateral ties are also not always smooth.

According to the New York Times, Jang’s visit has garnered an unusual amount of attention from North Korean media:

Mr. Jang, 66, widely seen as Mr. Kim’s point man in overseeing the development of the zones, is the most powerful North Korean official to visit China since Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong-il, went there in August 2011. South Korean analysts consider Mr. Jang to be a significant influence in Kim Jong-un’s recent efforts to tame his military and carry out his economic revitalization program, which, according to South Korean news media, includes allowing farmers to own part of their annual yield as an incentive. Such a plan, if put into effect, would be one of the most drastic reforms in North Korea, which officially sticks to “socialist economic principles.”

Mr. Jang is the brother-in-law of Mr. Kim’s father, who died in December. When Kim Jong-il was alive, Mr. Jang often preferred to stand in the background while party secretaries and military leaders stood closer to the elder Mr. Kim during official functions. Mr. Kim once banished Mr. Jang from Pyongyang, the capital.

But his prominence has risen with the ascension of Kim Jong-un. Mr. Jang and his wife have climbed the party hierarchy as they worked to ensure a smooth transition of power in the Kim dynasty.

North Korea’s state-run news media have provided daily updates on Mr. Jang’s trip, coverage that is highly unusual for anyone except for the top leader. Bolstering that prominence was China’s willingness to grant Mr. Jang meetings with its top leaders — a treatment that South Korean news media called “a level befitting a head of state.” Mr. Jang was visiting China as the chief of the central administrative department of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Amid continuing speculation on Kim Jong-Un’s first visit to China, Jang’s visit is seen as a prelude for the young Kim’s own trip, China Daily reports:

The visit is also widely speculated as a prelude to one by Kim Jong-un to Beijing. Kim has yet to visit Beijing but his father, Kim Jong-il, was a frequent visitor to China in his later years.

“It is a custom for the DPRK top leader to pay his first foreign visit to China,” said Zhang Liangui, a professor on Korean Peninsula studies at the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee.

“In the current situation, it is necessary for Pyongyang to step up communication with Beijing and to let the Chinese leaders and Kim Jong-un know each other.”

On Friday both Hu and Wen offered condolences for floods which severely hit the DPRK this summer.