China Ink

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What did Wen Jiabao do for his Golden Week holiday? He opted for a three day citybreak in Pyongyang, with rather an unusual tour guide.

So the trip was a big deal?

Wen Jiabao was the first Chinese prime minister to visit Pyongyang since 1991, according to state media. China remains North Korea’s main diplomatic ally and as a special mark of respect an ailing Kim Jong-il made the trip to the airport to greet Wen on the tarmac. CCTV showed images of Kim and Wen embracing – a move no doubt choreographed to telegraph their   special relationship. The China Daily reiterated that the three day visit was “a reaffirmation of friendship” between the two nations, and coincided with the 60th anniversary of formal relations between the neighbours.

The South China Morning Post agreed that the visit to “arguably the world’s most secretive state leader” (who is more so?) was a highly significant one. To signal the importance of it all there were a thousand slogan-chanting citizens waving flowers, plus a 22 gun salute and an honour guard. Later on 100,000 highly-drilled North Koreans danced, sang and flipped cards to reveal messages to their visitor, reported Reuters. Some were in Chinese including: “Grandpa Wen, so happy to see you.” As close to rolling out the red carpet as North Korea gets….

Did the visit pay dividends?

China has been under pressure from the US to rein in its wayward ally – not least because of all those wayward missile launches. Perhaps that’s why the China Daily ran the headline: “Premier pushes for nuclear-free peninsula.” Mission accomplished? The visit prompted Kim to claim he’d never abandoned the goal of “denuclearising” the Korean peninsula.

The Global Times was impressed. The trip had ended in “an important consensus”, it announced.

Kim Jong-il marked the occasion with a little joke.  The South China Morning Post says he asked reporters: “How can people claim I’m reclusive?”

The Washington Post reckoned the trip had made headway and even “stirs optimism” for the future. It seemed particularly pleased by the prospect of North Korea returning to the six-party nuclear disarmament talks and the fact that Kim told Wen he wants one-on-one talks with the US to “convert hostile relations into peaceful ties”.

Was there an economic angle too?

Big Brother China has long been Kim’s most important economic ally and China’s press reported that “good neighbourly relations” were key. Xinhua drew attention to the symbolism of a new bridge that will be built over the Yalu River to bolster economic ties. The newspaper didn’t specify who would be footing the bill, but it’s probably more likely to be the party with the $2.13 trillion of foreign exchange reserves.

South Korea’s JoongAng Daily reported the Chinese offered grants of at least $200 million. South Korean officials are questioning whether this violates UN resolutions banning non-humanitarian support.

The Financial Times also wondered if Wen had an eye on North Korea’s “massive untapped mineral wealth”. It reckons Pyongyang has $6 trillion of mineral reserves, although analysts think Beijing’s ambitions to cash in are likely to be “sorely disappointed”.


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