(Reuters) - North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il made a rare public appearance at Pyongyang’s airport on Sunday to greet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the start of a rare visit likely to test the North’s stance on nuclear disarmament.
Here are some facts about ties between the two neighbors:
China was a crucial backer of the North Korean Communist forces in the Korean War, sending soldiers across the border from October 1950. The two sides formally established relations on October 6, 1949.
After the armistice, China’s support continued, and in 1961 the two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, which calls for either to aid the other if attacked. It remains in force.
Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit is the most senior by a Chinese leader since President Hu Jintao visited in 2005. Kim Jong-il last visited China in 2006.
North Korea has been wary of its much larger neighbor and Chinese officials and analysts say Bejing’s sway over Pyongyang is more limited than some Western governments assume.
In October 2006 North Korea held its first nuclear test explosion, defying pleas from Chinese leaders. Beijing condemned the test and backed U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718, which authorised sanctions against North Korea and demanded it halt nuclear weapons and ballistic missile activities.
After the North staged its second nuclear test on May 25, Beijing backed a Security Council Resolution 1874, authorizing tougher sanctions on Pyongyang, including a ban on its arms exports.
China has sought to defuse international confrontation over North Korea by hosting six-party talks since August 2003. The irregular negotiations bring together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia, seeking to end the North’s nuclear weapons ambitions in return for aid.
China’s trade and aid have become crucial to North Korea’s survival, especially as Pyongyang’s ties with South Korea have frayed. Last year, trade between China and North Korea reached $2.79 billion, up 41.3 percent on 2007. Of that, China’s exports to the North were worth $2.0 billion.
But in the first 8 months of this year their bilateral trade slipped to $1.6 billion, a fall of 6.2 percent compared to the same months last year. Chinese exports to the North fell by 10.4 percent.
China is not specific about how much of this trade is really aid, and it does not give separate statistics on aid.
China’s 1,416-km (880-mile) border with North Korea includes stretches of rivers that freeze over in winter, and in recent years many North Korean refugees have crossed over, sometimes then making their way to other countries.
In past years, outside groups have estimated their numbers to be from tens of thousands to 300,000 or more. More recently, stronger border controls and reduced famine in the North appear to have reduced arrivals.
(Sources: Reuters; Chinese Ministry of Commerce website www.mofcom.gov.cn; “China Monthly Exports & Imports”; International Crisis Group; Andrew Scobell, “China and North Korea: From Comrades-in-Arms to Allies at Arm’s Length”; U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea)
Reporting by Chris Buckley, Editing by Sanjeev Miglani