[Analytics] Kim Jong-un hints that N. Korea views China as model for development

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (center) examines products at the Tong Ren Tang pharmaceutical company in Beijing on Jan. 9. (Xinhua)

SEOUL, Jan 13, 2019, Hankyoreh. “North Korea views China’s development experience as extremely important, and we hope to visit China a great deal for inspections and interchange.” This was the message from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during his recent summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Xinhua news agency reported on Jan. 10, reported the Hankyoreh.

“We have been deeply impressed by the development of China’s economy and society, and by the spirit and actions shown by the Chinese people in their exertions to enrich their country,” Kim was quoted as saying. North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported that Kim and Xi had “reached an agreement on new plans for expanding and developing high-level mutual visits in various areas.”

The meeting hinted at the dispatching of another senior-level inspection and exchange team along the lines of a “goodwill observation group” – headed by Pak Tae-song and consisting mainly of Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) city and provincial party committee members – that was sent to China on May 14–19 of last year, soon after a second China visit by Kim and agreement on expanding and intensifying “high-level exchanges between the two [communist] parties.” In a meeting with Xi, Pak explained that the aim of the visit was to “learn from China’s experience with reforms and openness,” CCTV reported. With the latest announcement, China’s top leadership attributed the remarks to Kim Jong-un himself.

While the Rodong Sinmun reported Kim as expressing during his meeting with Xi that North Korea was “watching and drawing strength as China develops by the day,” it did not include any further details. Instead, it was Korean Central Television (KCTV) that reported in detail on Kim’s Tong Ren Tang factory visit in “documentary footage” of his fourth visit aired on Jan. 11. Introducing Tong Ren Tang as “China’s oldest [pharmaceutical company], founded in 1669,” the network explained that it is “combining modern processes and craft methods to produce some 1,600 varieties of products at 36 bases.” It went on to note that Kim had “intently observed the production process.”

Notably, the Rodong Sinmun reported Xi as expressing “active support” for Kim’s new strategic focus on “channeling all capabilities into building the socialist economy.”

“Comrade Kim Jong-un’s strategic decision is the correct one,” Xi was quoted as saying, adding that the decision “accords with the North Korean people’s interests and the currents of the times.” The report suggested that Xi’s authority was being used to emphasize the rightness of Kim’s choice to focus on the North Korean economy.

“In the North’s reporting on North Korea-China relations following [Kim’s] four visits to China, the most important details have been about Xi announcing his plans to visit North Korea,” said a former senior official and experienced North Korea observer.

“A visit by Xi would greatly help with Kim’s rule,” the former official said.
“Obviously, there would also be content about the economy in the North Korean visit plan reportedly announced by Xi,” he added.

By Lee Je-hun, senior staff writer

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