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China's No. 2 to discuss food aid with N.K. officials

All Headlines 12:11 June 12, 2008

SHENYANG, June 12 (Yonhap) - Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping will discuss his government's plan to provide food aid to North Korea when he visits the famine-stricken country next week, diplomatic sources here said Thursday.

Xi, who concurrently serves as a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, is scheduled to make a three-day trip to the North starting next Tuesday.

"China's food assistance to North Korea tops pending issues between the two countries," the sources said. "Xi makes the visit in his capacity as a member of the new Chinese Communist Party leadership launched in October, but we understand he would discuss the volume and timing of China's food assistance to North Korea during the visit," they said.

Aid groups say North Korea faces one of the worst food shortages in its history because of flooding last year combined with rising grain prices and reduced foreign handouts. The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization has said the North's shortfall for this year will reach 1.66 million tons.

The United States pledged to send 500,000 tons of food aid in the next year to help prevent impoverished North Koreans from dying of starvation.

One source says the Chinese government has been watching the food situation in the North closely since March to decide when to provide food assistance.

China, a staunch communist ally of North Korea, has annually provided 100,000 tons to 150,000 tons of cereals in humanitarian aid to the North under an economic cooperation agreement between the two countries.

No Chinese food assistance has been made this year, however, as the country began to strictly control food exports due to rising domestic demand and soaring global food prices since the start of this year.

Beijing has recently softened the restriction, allocating 100,000 tons of overseas food exports to North Korea at the strong request from Pyongyang in addition to 50,000 tons initially set early this year, the sources said.

A source well informed on North Korea in Beijing said China's plan to provide aid to the North appears prompted by the U.S. decision to send massive food aid.

North Korea is part of Xi's planned Asian trip that will also take him to Mongolia, Qatar and Yemen, according to other diplomatic sources.

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