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China and North Korea defence ministers pledge ties

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (C) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (R) in Pyongyang (4 October 2009)
China and North Korea are allies, but China has other interests in play too

Chinese and North Korean defence chiefs have pledged to strengthen their long-standing military alliance.

The Chinese Defence Minister, Liang Guanglie, is visiting North Korea two weeks before the US North Korea envoy, Stephen Bosworth, is due to visit.

North Korea's neighbours and the US are trying to re-start talks on the ending of Pyongyang's nuclear programmes.

China has been a firm ally of the North since they fought together in the Korean War against the South.

Analysts have noted, however, that China appears increasingly willing to push the boundaries of its special relationship with the North to support the nuclear talks.

Blood ties

China fears a huge influx of refugees if the North Korean state collapses, and has little desire to see a nuclear-armed state with an uncertain political succession on its border.

Mr Liang told a reception by Pyongyang's defence chief Kim Yong-chun that the bilateral relationship was "sealed in blood" when he and other Chinese troops fought the Korean War on the North Koreans' side.

"No force on earth can break the unity of the armies and peoples of the two countries and it will last forever," Mr Liang said, according to KCNA, the North Korean news agency.

NUCLEAR CRISIS
Oct 2006 - North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test
Feb 2007 - North Korea agrees to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel aid
June 2007 - North Korea shuts its main Yongbyon reactor
June 2008 - North Korea makes its long-awaited declaration of nuclear assets
Oct 2008 - The US removes North Korea from its list of countries which sponsor terrorism
Dec 2008 - Pyongyang slows work to dismantle its nuclear programme, after a US decision to suspend energy aid
April 2009 - Pyongyang launches a rocket carrying what it says is a communications satellite
25 May 2009 - North Korea conducts a second nuclear test
5 August 2009 - Former US President Bill Clinton visits to help secure the release of two detained US journalists
6 October 2009 - North Korea tells China it may be willing to return to six-party talks

"It is the fixed stand of the Korean army and people to invariably consolidate and develop the DPRK (North Korea)-China friendship, which has stood all trials of history," Kim Yong-Chun said.

The defence chiefs then had "comradely and friendly" talks, according to the report.

Mr Liang arrived in Pyongyang by plane on Sunday, inspected an honour guard, attended a fete, presented a gift for North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, and met Kim Yong-chun.

Chinese state media has said that Mr Liang would be going on to Japan and Thailand after his North Korean visit.

China has hosted the six-party nuclear negotiations, including delegates from the two Koreas, China, the US, Russia and Japan, since 2003.

China's premier, Wen Jiabao, recently visited Pyongyang and reported that the North was "willing to attend multilateral talks, including the six-party talks, depending on the progress in its talks with the United States".

US President Barack Obama was recently in Beijing, South Korea and Japan where he and his hosts all affirmed the importance of getting North Korea back into talks.



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