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You're reading: North Korea’s Kim tells China, economy a priority

BEIJING - North Korea's new young leader, Kim Jong-un, told a Chinese official that his government is focused on "developing the economy and improving people's livelihoods," China's official news agency reported late on Thursday, Aug. 1.

Kim’s comments to the visiting Chinese official, Wang
Jiarui, were the latest sign that the new young leader aims to
tackle North Korea’s decaying economy, which has been poorly
managed under the military-first government system.

This is in contrast to Kim’s late father who was focused on
military tensions and allowed the military to play a key role in
running North Korea, which is now struggling with chronic
poverty, isolation and damaging floods that could deepen hunger.

“Developing the economy and improving livelihoods, so that
the Korean people lead happy and civilized lives, is the goal
the Korean Workers’ Party is struggling towards,” Kim told Wang,
the head of the Chinese Communist Party’s International
Department, Beijing’s key interlocutor with the North.

Kim’s comments in a meeting in Pyongyang broke no new policy
ground, but analysts and diplomatic sources in China and South
Korea expect Kim to probably embark on an economic reform
package soon.

China’s long-standing view of North Korea as a traditional
ally and important bulwark against undue U.S. influence has been
a little clouded recently by uncertainties about the young Kim’s
intentions, as well as a brief quarrel over North Korea’s
detention of Chinese fishermen.

But Kim appeared keen to allay those concerns, and he cited
the wishes of his late father, Kim Jong-il, whom he succeeded as
dynastic leader of the one-party state last December.

“It is the unswerving will of the North Korean (ruling)
party and government to continue Comrade Kim Jong-il’s teachings
of constantly deepening the traditional friendship between North
Korea and China across the generations,” Kim told Wang,
according to the Xinhua news agency.

Kim has yet to visit Beijing. His late father was a frequent
visitor to China in his later years.

Kim, in his late twenties, has sought to impose his own
stamp on the top leadership of North Korea, and recently ousted
Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the country’s leading military figure,
who was seen as close to Kim Jong-il.

Kim Jong-un was also named marshal of the army in a move
that cemented his power. He already heads the Workers’ Party of
Korea and is First Chairman of the National Defence Commission.

He is gearing up to experiment with agricultural and
economic reforms after purging Ri Yong-ho for opposing change, a
source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters.

Experts in Beijing say their government fears that economic
malaise in North Korea could give way to damaging instability
and torrents of refugees across the border in China, and for
decades Chinese leaders have nudged Pyongyang to draw lessons
from their route to market economic reform.

But so far, Pyongyang has resisted any dramatic changes in
its traditional top-down management of the economy.

China has also hosted now moribund six-way talks seeking to
coax North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.
Xinhua reported that Kim said he was committed to “peace and
stability” on the Korean peninsula, but did not mention those
talks.

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