North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is seeking an ice-breaking trip to key ally China next month to meet its outgoing and future leaders, a source with ties to Pyongyang and Beijing said yesterday.
The planned visit comes amid signs of a thaw in Pyongyang as it desperately seeks investment to lift its impoverished and isolated economy using Chinese money. The trip was requested during this month's visit to Beijing by Kim's uncle, Jang Song-thaek, effectively the second most powerful figure in North Korea.
"It will be a get-to-know-you trip," said the source who has correctly predicted events in the past, including North Korea's first nuclear test in 2006 days before it was conducted, as well as Jang's rise.
"It will be a state visit. This was one of the most important missions of Jang Song-thaek's visit," the source said.
North Korea relies heavily on China for economic and diplomatic support and the trip would be Kim's first abroad since becoming leader.
Jang met President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao on his trip to Beijing.
It is not known whether Kim Jong-un, who took power last December following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, visited China before assuming office.
Kim Jong-il last visited China in May last year.
China's foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
Experts believe the North is closing fast on the technical capacity to stage a third nuclear test and the source said Pyongyang stood by its long-standing requirement that the United States sign a formal treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean war and to give diplomatic recognition as the price for not staging a test. The war ended in an armistice.
"There is no doubt North Korea has the capability, but China is strongly opposed to it," the source said.
"North Korea wants a permanent peace treaty to replace the armistice in exchange for dropping plans for a third nuclear test. It's been 60 years and time to [formally] end the war with a peace treaty."
Dr Siegfried Hecker, a US nuclear expert who has visited the North's main Yongbyon nuclear facility four times since 2004 and was the last foreign expert to visit the site in late 2010, wrote in a report published early this month that the North could be technically ready for a test within two weeks.