China says open to visit by new North Korean leader

BEIJING Tue Dec 20, 2011 6:32am EST

BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Tuesday it was open to a visit by new North Korean leader Kim Jong-un following the death of his father Kim Jong-il, as President Hu Jintao visited the hermit state's embassy in Beijing to express his condolences.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin, speaking at a daily news briefing, initially said he had "no information" about whether Jong-un would be welcome to visit China.

But later he clarified: "I want to add that China and North Korea have always kept up high-level visits, and we welcome the North Korean leader to visit at a convenient time to both sides." He did not elaborate.

The remarks follow a message from China's central leadership on Monday that gave Beijing's support for isolated North Korea and expressed confidence in Kim Jong-un -- Kim Jong-il's young and little-known successor.

Hu, during his visit to North Korea's sprawling embassy in one of Beijing's leafy diplomatic quarters, offered his support for the country's new leader, Kim Jong-un, highlighting efforts to shore up friendship with Pyongyang under the younger Kim.

State television showed a grim-faced Hu bowing in mourning for the elder Kim, accompanied with several other top officials, including Vice President Xi Jinping, the man most likely to succeed Hu from late next year.

"We are confident that the people of North Korea will carry on the task bequeathed by Comrade Kim Jong-il, and closely unify around the Korean Workers' Party, and under Comrade Kim Jong-Un turn their anguish into strength," Hu said in his condolence remarks.

"Cooperative relations between China and North Korea is the immutable and unwavering guiding policy of China's party and government," the report paraphrased Hu as saying.

The visit -- unusual for China's highest ranked leader -- is another sign of Beijing's determination to protect its ties with Pyongyang as it enters an uncertain transition.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had spoken in the morning with his South Korean counterpart Kim Sung-hwan and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

All three agreed it was important to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, the statement, carried on the ministry's website (www.mfa.gov.cn), said.

"Maintaining peace and stability on the Korean peninsula accords with the interests of all sides. China is willing to work hard with all sides to this effect," it cited Yang as saying.

Impoverished and squeezed by international sanctions for conducting a series of nuclear and missile tests since 2006, North Korea has increasingly turned to Beijing for help to fill the gap left by the drying up of economic assistance from South Korea and the United States.

In turn, China has made clear that it wants to shore up North Korea as a buffer protecting its regional influence from the United States and its allies.

Over the 18 months before his death, Kim visited China four times, although in the past he rarely travelled abroad.

During Kim's China visit in May, the two sides vowed that their alliance, "sealed in blood," would pass on to their successors.

(Writing by Ben Blanchard)

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Comments (3)
SkepticReader wrote:
China treats the North Korean regime with the delicacy and trepidation of a worried parent tending to a gravely ill and severely retarded child, humoring its delusions, calming its tremors. On the surface, Chinese tolerance of such an unpredictable and reckless homunculus on its doorstep is puzzling; but the doting decorum presently on display reveals the core motive of Chinese relations with North Korea: fear.

Dec 21, 2011 1:36pm EST  --  Report as abuse
neetsheet wrote:
Wrong. The relationship is not based off of fear, but of balancing power in the region. Having North Korea as an ally puts China in a position to better place itself among US allies such as Japan and South Korea. China is not afraid of North Korea, its afraid of the US. You should refer to the history department of Peking University in Beijing if you want to learn more.

Dec 21, 2011 6:43pm EST  --  Report as abuse
SkepticReader wrote:
Your profound misunderstanding leads you to simply repeat vague cliches about “balance” and “position”. In what precise sense does such an economically and diplomatically useless ally serve Chinese interests with regards to the US or South Korea? Which of China’s concrete foreign policy objectives in the last twenty years have been in any way assisted by the North Koreans? How are China’s relations with Japan, South Korea, the US, or anyone else “bettered” by the dangerous antics of their hermit client? The North Koreans limited utility as even cheaper labor than Chinese teenagers, or as an intermittently annoying distraction to American grand strategy in the Pacific, is paltry compensation for the much more valuable geopolitical accomplice and consumer market North Korea *could* be, if properly led. No, the Kim dynasty’s desperate brinksmanship rarely aligns with Chinese interests, and the Chinese are often as surprised as the rest of the world by North Korea’s alarming stunts. Like South Korea, China fears the consequences of North Korean political collapse, and, as I correctly maintained, the gingerly patronizing tone it is currently exhibiting towards North Korea reveals this.

Dec 22, 2011 12:37am EST  --  Report as abuse
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