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(2nd LD) Lee views N.K. leader's China trip positively

All Headlines 15:41 August 31, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with Cheong Wa Dae's position on NK aid, Beijing's notification of Kim's trip results)
By Lee Chi-dong

SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Lee Myung-bak gave a positive assessment Tuesday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's trip to China, saying it must have allowed the leader to witness for himself the rapid economic growth of the communist ally.

"I positively evaluate that Chairman Kim frequents China," Lee said during a Cabinet meeting, according to presidential spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung. Lee was referring to the North Korean leader's official job title as chairman of the National Defense Commission.

Lee was quoted as saying that Kim's repeated trip to China would have a positive influence on North Korea's economy as it would provide him with more opportunities to see China's economic development firsthand.

"I see China's role positively as well," the president added. Many experts advise the impoverished and secretive North to adopt a Chinese-style economic reform and market opening.

Lee's office, Cheong Wa Dae, usually does not make public his comments at closed-door meetings on the North Korean leader's specific activities.

The rare revelation of Lee's remarks on Kim's China trip apparently aims to counter an impression that Seoul is blindly opposed to a gesture by Pyongyang and Beijing to cement their ties.

North Korean and Chinese media confirmed Monday that Kim made an unofficial trip to China's northeastern region from Aug. 26-30, during which he had a summit with President Hu Jintao.

It was Kim's sixth known journey to China since he seized power in 1994 after the sudden death of his father, Kim Il-sung, who founded the North.

His latest trip, however, came only three months after the previous one.

According to media reports, the North's leader expressed hope that the six-party talks over its nuclear program will resume at an early date and also stressed that the baton of traditional Pyongyang-Beijing friendship should be handed over to the "rising generation," which observers construed as alluding to the ailing leader's scheme to give power to his third son, Jong-un.

Hu was quoted as telling the North's leader that China is ready to grow trade and economic cooperation with North Korea on the premise that enterprises will play a major role and market operation will be boosted.

Cheong Wa Dae said Seoul's ambassador to Beijing was debriefed from the Chinese side on the results of the latest Hu-Kim summit held in Changchun, the capital city of the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin.

Asked to provide details, the spokeswoman said, "We can't do so due to a promise with China."

Meanwhile, she said the government's decision to send 10 billion won (US$8.4 million) worth of food aid and other emergency supplies to North Korea was made purely on a humanitarian basis.

She stressed that there is no change in South Korea's position that inter-Korean ties can be improved only when the North comes clean on the March sinking of a South Korean warship and resolves to denuclearize.

Last Thursday, South Korea's Red Cross announced an offer to deliver aid to the North reeling from floods but it did not respond.

It remains uncertain whether the North will reply to the South's clarified offer.


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