- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 15, 2006

BEIJING (Reuters) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il spent the weekend viewing China’s economic boom, but is unlikely to go home without meeting Chinese leaders to discuss how to resume stalled nuclear talks.

Rumors began to swirl last week that the leader of the reclusive Stalinist state was making one of his rare overseas visits, but sightings in southern China have given way to more concrete speculation over why he is here.

Mr. Kim’s choice of destination offers clues to the reasons behind his trip, only his fourth known tour to China.

Yesterday, he was apparently visiting the boomtown of Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong, a day after a tour of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, the fastest-growing corner of the world’s most rapidly developing major economy.

Mr. Kim spent yesterday touring one of the high-tech companies in Shenzhen — the pioneer city for China’s economic reforms — and visiting the Yantian port, which is one of China’s most advanced, computerized container ports, Japan’s Kyodo News agency said.

Officials at the city’s Wuzhou Guesthouse said all rooms had been booked for a special delegation at least until today.

China has drawn an official veil over Mr. Kim’s trip. His previous visit, in April 2004, was marked by heavy security and was confirmed only after he had returned home.

But Beijing may be eager for the leader of one of the world’s poorest nations to learn from the changes that can be wrought by a communist state ready to bend socialist principles to implement market-oriented reforms.

Twenty years ago, Shenzhen was a small town surrounded by paddy fields. Today, it is China’s richest city.

Beijing, one of Mr. Kim’s few remaining allies and the North’s major source of such aid as grain and oil, wants him to revive not only his struggling economy, but also the stalled six-party talks on ending his ambitious nuclear programs.

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