North Korean leader Kim Jong-un heads back to China border on economy-first mission
Signs of closer ties between Beijing and Pyongyang as Washington wary of China’s influence on the Korean peninsula
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has sent a strong signal of better economic ties with China in a visit that risks rattling the United States over Beijing’s growing influence on the Korean peninsula.
Kim inspected agricultural and construction sites in the northern county of Samjiyon on the border with China, North Korea’s KCNA news agency and Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Agriculture and tourism are two key areas of Sino-North Korean cooperation and the trip highlighted
Kim’s plans to revive his country’s economy through closer ties with its northern neighbour, observers said.
Kim underscored the county’s potential as a tourist hub and offered “field guidance” at Junghung Farm, stressing the need for both variety and efficiency in agriculture, according to KCNA.
On his trip to Beijing last month, Kim also visited the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
He was accompanied to Samjiyon by senior North Korean officials, including former Korean People’s Army vice-marshal Hwang Pyong-so and Jo Yong-won, from the Organisation and Guidance Department of the Workers’ Party of Korea, KCNA said.
He visited a cosmetics factory in the Sinuiju special economic zone, across the Yalu River from China’s port city Dandong, North Korean state media reported earlier this month.
Won Hye-young, a South Korean lawmaker with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, said Kim’s Samjiyon trip could reflect a desire to strengthen economic relations with China via existing platforms.
“It’s a message directed at both domestic and foreign audiences that North Korea has moved on to an economy-first policy ... After all, Pyongyang must attract foreign capital to speed up its economic development,” Won said.
The visit comes amid concern in Washington about China’s influence over its neighbour. In a tweet on Monday, US President Donald Trump said: “I have confidence that Kim Jong-un will honour the contract we signed [and] even more importantly, our handshake. We agreed to the denuclearisation of North Korea.
“China, on the other hand, may be exerting negative pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese trade – hope not.”
Late last week, the North Korean foreign ministry said it regretted the US’s “gangster-like” demands on denuclearisation during Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang.
Won said the China factor would affect US-North Korea relations, but that did not mean the impact would be negative.
“There are concerns that the Sino-US trade war could have a negative influence on the North Korean issue, but the trade issue is not part of the denuclearisation talks,” he said.
“China-North Korea relations are not a substitute for US-North Korea relations. Survival of the Kim regime sits at the core of the denuclearisation issue and thus fundamentally it is the US and North Korea that must negotiate at the end of the day.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday that China’s position on North Korea was consistent and it acted in a responsible manner.