Kim's China trip shows shift in focus to economy

Mr Kim (second from left) and wife Ri Sol Ju (left) meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai state guest house yeterday. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a national agricultural sciences park under the Chinese Acad
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a national agricultural sciences park under the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences yesterday. He also visited the Beijing rail traffic control centre. He returned to Pyongyang yeterday following a two-day trip to Beijing. This is his third visit to China since March.PHOTO: XINHUA
Mr Kim (second from left) and wife Ri Sol Ju (left) meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai state guest house yeterday.
Mr Kim (second from left) and wife Ri Sol Ju (left) meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping and wife Peng Liyuan at the Diaoyutai state guest house yeterday. PHOTO: XINHUA

BEIJING • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un yesterday visited an agricultural sciences park and Beijing's rail traffic control centre before wrapping up a two-day visit to Beijing, his third trip to China this year.

A source told South Korea's Yonhap news agency that his visit to the agricultural sciences centre is a a sign that his regime is increasingly interested in agricultural reforms.

A group of North Korean officials led by a high-ranking North Korean official, Mr Pak Thae Song, vice-chairman of its Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, reportedly visited the same facility during their trip to China last month.

According to North Korean media, Mr Pak and North Korean Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju, known for their expertise in science and the economy, are among the officials who accompanied Mr Kim on his latest trip to China.

Mr Kim's visit to the rail traffic control centre was probably related to his push for partnerships in the infrastructure construction sector, including the envisioned Trans-China Railway (TCR).

The TCR programme is designed to link Seoul and Beijing by train through the North's cities of Pyongyang and Shinuiju, reported Yonhap.

In April, North Korea vowed to shift its focus to the economy after declaring that its quest for nuclear weapons had been completed.

Mr Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping first met in Beijing in March on Mr Kim's first trip abroad since taking power in late 2011. The 34-year-old made a second trip to China last month.

Analysts say the latest trip is also aimed at assuring Beijing that Pyongyang will not neglect the interests of its Cold War-era ally as North Korea and the US move into uncharted diplomatic terrain following Mr Kim's historic meeting with US President Donald Trump in Singapore last week.

Noting that this year marks the 40th anniversary of China's reform and opening up, Mr Xi said on Tuesday that he was happy to see that North Korea had made a major decision to shift its focus towards economic development, adding that China supports North Korea's economic development.

Mr Kim described both countries "as close and friendly as family", according to China's official Xinhua News Agency, and thanked Mr Xi for his "affectionate care and support".

The two leaders met again yesterday at Beijing's Diaoyutai state guest house.

Mr Xi told Mr Kim yesterday that with the joint efforts of the two countries, the Korean peninsula will definitely be peaceful and stable, reported Xinhua.

The official media of both countries did not say whether Mr Kim and Mr Xi discussed the prospect of easing UN sanctions that have crippled North Korea's economy, though analysts said it could have been part of the agenda.

Mr Shin Beom Chul, a senior fellow at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said Mr Kim and Mr Xi were probably seeking "common ground" following the Singapore summit.

For China, North Korea can serve as "an important card" as Beijing faces a potential trade war with the United States, Mr Shin said.

"For the North, it can also show to the world, especially the US, that Beijing has Pyongyang's back if the North's ties with the US sour in the future," he added.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'Kim's China trip shows shift in focus to economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe