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Wednesday, November 11, 2009     GET REAL

China invite suggests N. Korea's $5.94 trillion in resources, not nukes, are priority

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Chinese President Hu Jintao formally invited North Korean ruler Kim Jong-Il to visit China, the latest in a series of fence-mending moves.   

North Korea watchers in Seoul said the move indicates Beijing is more concerned about Pyongyang's stability than its nuclear program.

As is true of its relations with other less-developed nations, particularly in Africa, Beijing also has its eye on North Korean natural resources that could fuel the growth of its economy and stabilize its own restive population.

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The Washington Post reported Nov. 3 that "North Korea's military . . . has grabbed nearly complete command of the nation's state-run economy and staked out a lucrative new trade in mineral sales to China."

With U.S.-backed sanctions hampering its revenue streams from sales of strategic weapons to such nations as Iran and Syria, the Korean People's Army "has come up with a new business model, taking over the management of state trading companies to rapidly increase sales of coal, iron ore and other minerals to China," the Post reported.

Choe Thae-bok, left, secretary of the central committee of the North Korean Workers' Party, shakes hands with Wang Jiarui, head of the liaison department of the Chinese Communist Party's central committee. Xinhua-Yonhap

Analysts in Seoul estimated the value of North Korea's mineral reserves at an astronomical $5.94 trillion.

Hu extended the invitation for Kim’s visit "at a convenient time" during a meeting last week with Choe Thae-Bok, a visiting secretary of the North's ruling Workers' Party, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

"At the meeting, comrade Hu Jintao asked Choe Thae-Bok to convey his invitation to General Secretary Kim Jong-Il to visit China at a time convenient to him."

KCNA quoted the Chinese leader as saying Beijing is "ready to strive with the Korean comrades to put the relations of friendship between the two countries on a new stage."

Choe, a close confidant of Kim's, led a party delegation to Beijing amid a flurry of diplomacy to celebrate 60 years of ties between the two countries. Kim, who makes rare foreign trips due to security concerns, last visited China in 2006.

Choe's trip is the latest in a series of high-profile visits between the two sides in recent months, a move to bolster their alliance at a time when U.S.-led sanctions have put pressure on North Korea.

In early October, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao traveled to Pyongyang and met the North's leader. On that occasion, Beijing offered massive economic projects and donations worth $200 million in return for Kim's promise to consider rejoining long-stalled six-nation talks on the North's nuclear issue.

Analysts said China's diplomatic and economic support for the North shows that Beijing is more concerned that U.S.-led pressure could lead to political instability in its communist neighbor than about nuclear weapons.

Lee Dong-Ryul, a China expert at Dongguk Women's University in Seoul, said Beijing's strategic goal is to keep North Korea “under a pro-China regime without nuclear weapons."

"But the top priority is placed on maintaining the stability in the North rather than removing nuclear weapons," he said.

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