Beijing shows its support for Pyongyang as it looks for ways to develop economy
Beijing resolutely supports Pyongyang developing its economy and expects to explore new ways of cooperation, top Chinese leaders said on Friday when meeting the highest-level official from Pyongyang since Kim Jong-un took office.
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao made the remarks when they met separately with Jang Song-thaek, director of the central administrative department of the Workers' Party of Korea.
Jang, also vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission and widely seen as a leading economic policy official in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, signed a string of agreements on Tuesday with the Chinese side to further develop two special economic zones of DPRK near the border. Pyongyang observers said Beijing sent a signal of strong support on economic development to its neighbor in the meetings, after its new leader Kim Jong-un expressed a willingness to push forward in that regard.
In the meeting with Jang, "the president expressed a wish for both sides to … explore new ways of cooperation, advance key projects including cooperation and development of the economic zones, and foster new areas of growth to benefit the people of the two countries," said a press release issued by the Foreign Ministry.
Hu was referring to an economic zone in the DPRK port of Rason on the east coast near Northeast China's Jilin province, and another in the west at Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa islands near the Chinese city of Dandong, Liaoning province.
China has always taken a long-term view when developing relations with the DPRK, Hu said.
He also praised Jang for his "huge amount of work for the friendly relations between China and the DPRK".
Jang, uncle of DPRK leader Kim Jong-un, has visited China many times in the past decades, while experts said he has a deep understanding of China's pattern of economic development.
In a separate meeting with Jang the same morning, Premier Wen Jiabao said China "resolutely supports the DPRK developing its economy and improving people's livelihood".
Jang told the premier that Pyongyang would like to cooperate closely with the Chinese side and accelerate work related to the two economic zones.
Reuters on Friday said the meetings are a clear show of support to Pyongyang "as it takes tentative steps" to rebuild its economy.
Kim Jong-un, in a meeting in Pyongyang earlier this month with Wang Jiarui, head of the international department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, said that "developing the economy and improving people's livelihood so that the Korean people can lead happy and civilized lives is the goal that the Korean Workers' Party is working toward".
The BBC website quoted some Western media as saying the route of Jang's China visit, which also covers Jilin and Liaoning, shows that he also intends to learn from China's experience in economic development to help the DPRK economy.
"It is a rare move to visit some provinces in China for a DPRK official in charge of bilateral trade. The move means he might have taken a special task (from Kim Jong-un) to have a look at China," said Zhan Debin, an expert on international politics with Shanghai-based Fudan University.
A director surnamed Dong from the Ministry of Commerce's Department of Asian Affairs told China Daily on Tuesday that although China's investment in the DPRK is still relatively small, it will "gain speed in the future, and the two sides will get closer and closer".
According to the ministry, China's investment in non-financial sectors in the DPRK reached $300 million by the end of last year.
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.
A further round of heavy storms hit the DPRK on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Korean Central News Agency. The death toll there from floods since late June rose to 169 last weekend, while 400 others are missing, it said.
Lu Chao, a specialist on Korean Peninsula studies with Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the DPRK has suffered the most serious floods in recent years, which will result in a reduced grain output in the country.
The flood-stricken area is mainly in the DPRK's grain-producing regions.