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Report: North Korean Official Made Secret Trips to China

Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed the familiar Chinese line that human rights issues are China’s internal affairs and other nations should not meddle, Oct. 22, 2013.
South Korean media are reporting a senior North Korean economic official has secretly visited China to attract investment. Beijing has neither confirmed nor denied the report, but has said maintaining strong ties is important to both nations.

Reports say North Korea has re-instated two officials in charge of trade and economic ties with China, in a sign the regime may try to repair its economic relations with its powerful neighbor.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said she had not seen the news reports, but as close neighbors, Beijing believes cooperative relations between China and North Korea are of importance to the whole region as well as to both countries.

South Korean media also credited diplomatic sources in Beijing with reports that one of the officials paid a secret visit to China last week to attract investment. Kim Ki-sok, chairman of the State Commission for Economic Development, reportedly visited Shenzhen, Singapore and Malaysia.

Such a visit, which normally would not be officially publicized, would be the first to China by a high-ranking North Korean official since the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Jang Song-taek.

Jang Song-taek's legacy

Jang pushed for economic reform in North Korea and spearheaded many Chinese-led investment projects in the country. After his execution, Wang Dong, a professor at Peking University, says many Chinese businessmen worried about their continued investment in North Korea, but now believe North Korea wants investment projects with China to continue.

“Most analysts agree that that was a power struggle. It was not a struggle between different ideologies, pro-reform... anti-reform. That was not the case. So the purge of Jang Song-taek does not mean the end of so-called reform policy,” said Wang Dong.

Trade between China and North Korea has boomed in recent years, with North Korea shipping resources to China in exchange for food supplies, arms and investment. In a series of recent case studies by Johns Hopkins University of Chinese firms doing business in North Korea, investors complained of bribes, poor infrastructure and unnecessary security measures.

Earlier this month U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beijing and asked for help in pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

Investment between the two longtime allies could remain strong though; China is planning a high speed rail line to North Korea to open by 2015.