- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 5, 2010

BEIJING (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was believed to have arrived in Beijing on Wednesday on a secrecy-shrouded visit that experts say aims to secure economic support in exchange for a commitment to return to denuclearization talks.

For a third day, Chinese officials refused to confirm that Mr. Kim is in the country, though journalists have seen him several times since he arrived aboard his armored train Monday.

Wednesday afternoon, a fleet of North Korean-flagged limousines escorted by police was seen entering the Diaoyutai State Guest House in western Beijing, where foreign leaders often stay on official visits.

Security was high around the sprawling compound of lakes and villas, with police, soldiers and plainclothes agents posted along walls and at access points. Police closed the road in front and parked a bus at the main gate to block journalists’ view as the convoy of more than 50 vehicles entered.

South Korean media reported Mr. Kim would be feted by Chinese President Hu Jintao with a welcoming banquet at the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday night before the delegations sit down for summit talks Thursday.

China, which sent troops to save the North Korean regime during the 1950-53 Korean War, is widely seen as having the most clout with Mr. Kim’s hard-line communist government. Mr. Kim has visited China five times since succeeding his father as ruler in 1994, the last in 2006.

Thursday’s discussions are expected to center on further financial help from China, already impoverished North Korea’s biggest source of food and fuel aid and main bulwark against tougher international sanctions.

Chinese investment, especially in North Korean natural resources, has been growing, although economic chaos — most recently a botched currency reform effort — limits such opportunities.

Fearing the regime’s implosion and mass unrest on its border, China is expected to accede to new aid requests, said Cai Jian, deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies at Shanghai’s Fudan University. The sides also may start implementing economic agreements signed during Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s trip to Pyongyang last year, Mr. Cai said.

While Beijing won’t link the issues explicitly, it will expect Mr. Kim to show new willingness to rejoin long-stalled six-nation talks sponsored by China under which Pyongyang agreed to dismantle its nuclear programs in return for aid.

“They want to break the deadlock so that North Korea could get back to the framework of the six-party talks,” Mr. Cai said.

An announcement during Mr. Kim’s visit could bring new talks by June, said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. The participants also include South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

“Hu Jintao will promise an active cooperation in Chinese economic aid and investment to North Korea, while Mr. Kim will respond by announcing his country’s return to the six-party talks and his commitment to denuclearization,” Mr. Yang said.

North Korea quit the talks a year ago and then conducted a nuclear test that drew tightened U.N. sanctions. Mr. Kim has taken no concrete steps amid what experts see as moves to groom his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, to succeed him as leader of the nation of 24 million.

A Chinese official underscored Beijing’s hopes for a new round of negotiations in remarks Tuesday at a U.N. conference to review the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and explore ways to strengthen its controls on the spread of nuclear materials.

“China has been committed to promoting diplomatic solutions of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue and the Iranian nuclear issue,” said Li Baodong, China’s main delegate to the monthlong conference.

Mr. Kim’s trip also comes amid increasing speculation in South Korea that the North may have torpedoed a South Korean warship in disputed waters in March, killing 46 sailors.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on Tuesday stopped just short of blaming the North.

The North has denied involvement in the sinking, accusing Seoul of spreading false rumors to shore up sanctions against the North and to muster conservative votes ahead of mayoral and gubernatorial elections.

Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul and researcher Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.


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