Beijing yesterday confirmed North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong-il had paid a week-long visit to China, with official media quoting Kim as telling President Hu Jintao Pyongyang will concentrate on economic development and is willing to resume talks on nuclear disarmament.
'North Korea is now concentrating its attention and resources on economic development and it is in great need of a stable neighbouring environment,' China Central Television and Xinhua news agency quoted Kim as telling Hu last night.
Xinhua also quoted Kim as saying North Korea 'hopes there will be an easing on the Korean peninsula, is adhering to the goal of denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, and advocates restarting the six-party talks at an early date.'
Hu told Kim that all sides should 'remain calm and restrained, show flexibility, remove obstacles, improve relations and make positive efforts to ultimately accomplish peace, stability and development on the peninsula,' Xinhua said.
The nuclear talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, have been stalled since December 2008 due to a North Korean boycott and tensions over the communist nation's two deadly attacks on the South last year.
China, Pyongyang's historical ally, has often mediated between the unpredictable state and regional powers, keen to prevent the collapse of the Kim dynastic regime on its border. Beijing has also accelerated efforts to resume the stalled talks aimed at denuclearising Pyongyang, which would secure food assistance for the North from dialogue partners.
Although North Korea often causes China headaches, being Pyongyang's sole ally gives Beijing some advantages in its dealings with the US-led alliance on issues related to regional security and economics.
The Kim regime is under pressure to secure Chinese economic aid as well as Beijing's political support for his son to succeed him. Hu said the Chinese side had adhered to 'the spirit of carrying forward tradition, embracing the future, and unswervingly observed the principle of consolidating and developing China-North Korea relations'.
The remark suggests that China may have given its blessing to Kim's succession plan. Kim has been grooming his youngest son, Jong-un, as his successor. Last year, the heir-apparent was given top posts at the ruling Workers' Party as well as the title of a four-star general.
In reply, Kim said 'it is a great historic mission for both countries to pass on friendship from generation to generation'.
Hu also accepted Kim's invitation to visit North Korea, Xinhua reported.
It was Kim's third trip to the mainland in just over a year. The latest journey, which took him thousands of kilometres from the northeast to the east coast, suggests Pyongyang's eagerness to learn from China's experiences in reviving its rigidly controlled economy.
During what is being termed an 'unofficial visit' Kim visited factories in industrial parks, farms, hi-tech developments, supermarkets and farmers' families. Kim, 69, also visited IT services provider Shenzhou Shuma in Beijing's Zhongguancun district - sometimes called 'China's Silicon Valley'.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that Kim and Hu discussed expanding food aid to North, kick-starting economic co-operation and boosting Chinese investment.