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(LEAD) China supports N. Korea's power transition: KCNA

All Headlines 17:31 February 15, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES in para 4 with reaction from China's foreign ministry; CHANGES dateline to SEOUL/BEIJING; ADDS photo)

SEOUL/BEIJING, Feb. 15 (Yonhap) -- A senior Chinese official has supported North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's plans to cede power to his youngest son, the North's official news agency reported Tuesday.

Meng Jianzhu, Chinese state councilor and public security minister, "warmly congratulated Kim Jong-il upon his reelection as general secretary of the WPK and Kim Jong-un upon his election as vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the WPK at the historic Conference of the WPK, hailing the successful solution of the issue of succession to the Korean revolution," the Korean Central News Agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang. WPK is the acronym for North Korea's ruling Worker's Party of Korea.

Meng met with Kim Jong-il Monday to convey "kind greetings" from President Hu Jintao and other Chinese officials, the KCNA said. Meng is in the North Korean capital on the first leg of his four-nation tour that will also bring him to Laos, Singapore and Malaysia.

China's Xinhua news agency carried a report on Meng's meeting with the North's leader, but did not mention his comments about Pyongyang's succession plan. Later Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu also declined to comment on the issue.

Meng's remarks on Chinese support for the unprecedented third-generation power transition in any communist state come amid reports of growing instability in the isolated, impoverished country due to a severe food shortage and economic hardships.

Unconfirmed reports said that a number of North Korean soldiers were apprehended recently as they refused to respect labor orders due to inadequate food rationing.

In an apparent bid to escape the chronic food shortage and economic difficulties, North Korea recently proposed to revive high-level inter-Korean military dialogue, but walked out of preparatory talks last week citing South Korea's demand for an apology for the shelling of a South Korean front-line island and the sinking of a South Korean warship that killed 50 people last year.

South Korea severed almost all economic ties with the North after the sinking of the Cheonan, which was blamed on North Korea. Pyongyang denies involvement in the Cheonan's sinking and insists the shelling of Yeonpyeong was prompted by the South's provocations on the western sea border.

The conservative Lee Myung-bak government has cut off aid to North Korea since its inauguration in early 2008, demanding Pyongyang show sincerity in its denuclearization through international six-party talks, which last met in December 2008.

North Korea has been under United Nations sanctions since early 2009 for its nuclear and missile tests.

Lee's liberal predecessors had provided hundreds of thousands of tons of food and fertilizer every year despite criticism that such aid only helped Pyongyang bolster its nuclear arsenal.

The KCNA report said that Meng "warmly congratulated Kim Jong-il on his birthday and wholeheartedly wished him good health, presenting the gifts prepared by himself to Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un."

Kim Jong-il reportedly won China's support for his hereditary succession process when he visited China twice last year, a rare move for the reclusive leader.

Kim Jong-un was appointed in September to vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers' Party, which oversees the North's 1.2 million-strong military headed by his father.

The heir apparent was listed second after his father among members of the funeral committee for Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok, a close confidant of the North Korean leader, in November.

With an eye on superpower status within decades, Beijing is said to prefer the status quo to any instability or a unified Korea led by South Korea and the U.S. due to concerns about losing North Korea as a buffer against the United States.

China, which provides more than 80 percent of the oil, food and other necessities to the North, has invested heavily in the isolated, impoverished nation in recent decades, though Pyongyang has long been under international sanctions.

hdh@yna.co.kr
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