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Kim Skipping WWII Ceremony Shows Troubled China-North Korea Ties

FILE - Choe Ryong Hae (C), director of the General Political Bureau of the Korean People's Army (KPA) of North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s decision to skip China’s high-profile military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II indicates a difficult relationship between China and North Korea, experts say.

This week, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Ming told reporters North Korea will dispatch Choe Ryong Hae, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, to the September 3 parade in Beijing. Some 30 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean President Park Geun-hye, are expected to attend the event.

Strained relations

Jeon Hyun-joon, a North Korea analyst in Seoul, said Kim’s absence at the ceremony is a reflection of China’s growing frustration with North Korea.

“Kim might have wanted special treatment from China for his first visit to a foreign country and realized that the Chinese would not meet his needs,” said Jeon.

Jeon said personal relationships between the two allies’ leaders have been strained since Mr. Kim took power in late 2011, adding that Chinese President Xi Jinping is known to be uneasy with Kim.

The possibility of Kim’s attendance at the commemorative event was first raised when he canceled his planned trip to Moscow for Russia’s celebrations of the anniversary in May. Recently, Kim's tribute to the Chinese soldiers who fought for North Korea during the Korean War was seen as a conciliatory move toward China. Some analysts had speculated China and North Korea could use next week’s event to try to mend bilateral ties.

New partner

Instead, China reached out to South Korea to invite President Park to the parade where Beijing is expected to showcase its military power, with newly developed weapons on display. When Park's three-day visit, including a meeting with the Chinese leader, was announced last week, it was unclear if she will attend the parade that many Western leaders chose to skip. On Wednesday, her office said she will attend the Chinese parade, making her the first South Korean president to do so.

Min Kyung-wook, spokesman for Park’s office, told reporters that South Korea considered its relationship with China and made the decision hoping China will contribute to peace and unification on the Korean peninsula.

Shin Sang-jin, a professor at South Korea’s Kwangwoon University who watches relations between China and the two Koreas closely, said President Park might have seen a need for China in dealing with North Korea.

“South Korea sees an increasing role for China in dealing with North Korea and future unification of two Koreas,” Shin said.

Mending ties

Some say Choe’s attendance at the event might be Kim’s attempt to improve ties with China. In May 2013, Choe traveled to Beijing and met with President Xi.

“Kim might have picked Choe because he is one of his close aides who have some acquaintance with Chinese leaders,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the Seoul-based University of North Korea Studies.

Kim Heung-gyu, a professor at South Korea’s Aju University, said the North Korean leader might use Choe as his personal envoy. “It is possible that Choe will deliver Kim’s personal letter to Xi to stress a need for keeping a strong alliance between the two countries.”

Relations between China and North Korea have cooled after Pyongyang conducted the third nuclear test in early 2013, despite objections from Beijing. The relations deteriorated after the execution of Jang Song Thaek, Kim’s uncle, who had close ties to Beijing.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.