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Thursday, 1 June, 2000, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
N Korea admits 'friendly' China trip
beijing
The visit took place in almost total secrecy
North Korea says its leader, Kim Jong-Il, held "warm meetings" with Chinese President Jiang Zemin during a secret trip to Beijing.

News of the visit first leaked out on Wednesday as the reclusive Mr Kim returned home on a private train.


kim Jong-il
Publicity shy leader Kim Jong-Il
It was his first trip abroad since succeeding his father Kim Il-Song as leader of the Stalinist nation in 1994.

The three-day visit came ahead of a historic summit between North and South Korea next month.

Neither Pyongyang nor Beijing had commented on the trip, which took place in almost total secrecy.

But the official Korean news agency confirmed on Thursday that Mr Kim had met Mr Jiang on a visit to Beijing.

It said the two leaders had shown an "unshakeable will" to develop their friendship.

South Korea and Japan, which are both trying to forge ties with the North, immediately welcomed news of the trip.

China is North Korea's closest ally and has been prodding Pyongyang to make peace with Seoul.

Isolation

There had been widespread speculation that North Korea's supreme leader would visit China this year, as his country begins to emerge from years of isolation compounded by devastating food shortages.

The Korean Central news agency gave few details of what was discussed.

"There was an earnest exchange of views on matters of mutual concern, including the international situation and a consensus of views was reached on all the matters discussed," it said.


President Kim Dae-Jung
South Korea's Kim Dae-Jung: Set to meet Kim Jong-Il in June
Diplomats say they believe Mr Kim was seeking to shore up his relationship with China ahead of his summit with South Korea's president Kim Dae-Jung in Pyongyang this month.

It will be the first such meeting since the Korean peninsula was divided after World War II.

Diplomats say Mr Kim is also concerned that China, traditionally North Korea's closest ally, is becoming too friendly with the government of South Korea, with which Beijing has fast growing economic ties.

Improving ties

North Korea, whose number two leader visited Beijing last year, has given a number of signals it wishes to improve international relations.

Pyongyang recently agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Italy and Australia.

Japan and North Korea have also relaunched talks on setting up diplomatic relations after a break of seven and half years.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki welcomed news of the talks with China. "We believe it is good [for North Korea] to deepen friendship with different countries," he added.

South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Mr Kim's meeting with Chinese leaders would help ensure peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

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See also:

10 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Korea summit raises hopes
08 Oct 98 | Korean elections 97
South Korea: A political history
13 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: The trouble with North Korea
05 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea seeks closer ties with Japan
09 Sep 98 | Korea at 50
Where famine stalks the land
30 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Trilateral talks on North Korea
09 Sep 98 | Korea at 50
North Korea: a political history
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