Premier Wen Jiabao is currently in North Korea. His trip has been billed as a “goodwill visit” that coincides with the 60th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic relations, but few other details are known. Many spectators are hoping that Wen will be able to persuade North Korea to join talks over its nuclear program.
Premier Wen’s visit coincides with the 60th anniversary of formal ties between the two communist neighbors, and his three days there are likely to feature gestures of friendship, not the hard-nosed negotiations over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons that preoccupy other regional powers.
But analysts said China, the closest North Korea has to an ally, would not send such a senior visitor unless it had some assurance from Pyongyang that could ease tensions over its nuclear weapons activities, following a second nuclear test and its claims to have made progress in enriching uranium.
“This visit will be mostly focused on bolstering bilateral relations and the 60th anniversary, but the nuclear issue is sure to come up,” said Zhu Feng, a professor of international security at Peking University.
“The key question will be whether North Korea goes beyond its recent statements and directly expresses willingness to return to the six-party (nuclear disarmament) talks,” said Zhu. “That would be China’s goal for this visit,.”
North Korea’s perspective of Wen’s visit, via Yonhap News:
North Korea hailed Wen’s visit as opening a new chapter in bilateral relations.
The visit “clearly illustrates that the party and the government of China attach great importance to the friendship” between the two countries, the Rodong Sinmun, a newspaper published by the Workers’ Party, said in an editorial. It was carried by the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, a state-run radio.
Wen’s trip will “open a new chapter in the history of the friendship” and be “a great encouragement to the Korean people” who are striving to build a prosperous nation, it said.
The Times is optimistic about the significance of Wen’s visit and comments on the reception from North Korea’s Kim Jong-il:
Mr Kim made the unusual gesture of greeting Mr Wen in person, embracing him as he arrived at Pyongyang airport. The visit appeared to end one of the worst periods in relations between East Asia’s two nuclear powers. The countries — once described by Mao Zedong as being “as close as lips and teeth” — have had frosty relations since April, when North Korea launched an intercontinental rocket, which was followed in May by an underground nuclear test. China ended support for its long-time ally and backed condemnation and sanctions by the UN Security Council.
The visit by Mr Wen — China’s second most senior leader — to Pyongyang suggests that differences have been overcome and North Korea is ready to resume some kind of negotiations, after abandoning Chinesesponsored disarmament talks in April.
“Respectable comrade Wen Jiabao’s visit to our country this time has huge meaning in its historical timing and political significance,” a commentary in North Korea’s state run Workers’ Newspaper said yesterday.
See Xinhua’s reporting on the visit.