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(LEAD) Ri stresses N.K.'s dual policy of pursuing nukes, economy: KCNA

All News 12:01 June 01, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more info in paras 5, 11-17)

SEOUL, June 1 (Yonhap) -- Ri Su-yong, a top North Korean party official, has stressed his country's goal of simultaneously pursuing nuclear and economic development during his talks with a senior Chinese party official, Pyongyang's state media said Wednesday.

Ri, vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party's central committee and the party's chief of international relations, held talks with his counterpart Song Tao, minister of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing on Tuesday.

The former North Korean foreign minister arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for a three-day visit in what could be signs of the North's attempt to mend frayed ties with China over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Ri stressed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un clarified the principle of the ruling party to protect peace and stability in the region "by always adhering to the strategic line of simultaneously pushing forward economic construction and the building of nuclear force," said the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

It is not immediately known how Song responded to Ri's remarks on its nuclear program.

China has joined the U.N. Security Council's move to slap tougher sanctions on North Korea over its fourth nuclear test in January and long-range rocket launch the following month.

Ri's visit to China is mainly aimed at briefing CCP officials on the party congress of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in early May.

But a diplomatic source said that he could meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday for possible discussions over Kim's future visit to China.

Since taking office in late 2011, the North's leader has not held a summit with Xi, mainly because China has shunned the meeting in an apparent expression of anger over Pyongyang's nuclear aspirations.

The CCP said in a statement posted on its website that Ri and Song agreed to "strengthen exchanges and cooperation between the two parties."

South Korea's unification ministry said it hopes that Ri's visit to China prompts the North to give up its nuclear weapons program and bring peace to the divided peninsula.

"Denuclearization of North Korea is a top priority (in our policy toward the North)," Jeong Joon-hee, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing. "So we hope that Ri's visit to China contributes to making Pyongyang abandon its nukes."

Ri's trip to China comes amid speculation that North Korea could carry out its fifth nuclear test at any time in defiance of international condemnation.

The communist country attempted to launch an intermediate-range ballistic missile Tuesday, but the launch ended in failure, according to the South Korean military. It was the fourth such unsuccessful attempt in two months.

Experts said that the message Ri delivers on its nukes will be a critical yardstick in predicting how much Pyongyang and Beijing enhance their ties.

"For North Korea, it is important to improve its ties with China for the purpose of easing the impacts of international sanctions," said Kim Heung-kyu, head of the China Policy Institute under Ajou University. "But it is too early to say that Ri's visit will lead to the onset of an improvement of their strained relations."

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, however, cast an optimistic view about Pyongyang-Beijing ties, predicting that a summit between the leaders of the two may be possible as early as August.


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