BEIJING: North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il on Friday ended his four-day secretive visit to China, telling his hosts he was willing to help revive stalled negotiations over his country's controversial nuclear programme.
“The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is willing to work with you to create favourable conditions for a resumption of the talks,” Mr. Kim told Chinese President Hu Jintao, according to a report in the Chinese official media.
Mr. Kim this week held extensive meetings with Mr. Hu, and also met Premier Wen Jiabao and the seven other top leaders of the ruling Communist Party — a rare occurrence for a visiting head of state, reflecting the unique relationship between the two countries and the importance with which China views ties with its internationally-isolated neighbour.
Official media quoted Mr. Kim as saying he was willing “to create favourable conditions” to resume the stalled six-party talks — the dialogue framework with South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia over the North's controversial nuclear programme. North Korea quit the talks after the United Nations imposed sanctions following a nuclear test conducted last April.
Whether the statement suggested the stalled talks would actually resume remained unclear. South Korea's Yonhap news agency, which has close ties to South Korean intelligence, reported that Mr. Kim had all but committed his willingness to return to talks during a banquet with Mr. Hu on Wednesday. However, Chinese analysts cautioned that the wording of Mr. Kim's statement left enough wiggle-room for other interpretations.
During his visit, his first to China in four years, Mr. Kim also sought greater Chinese financial and food aid, amid persisting economic troubles and resource shortages in North Korea. “China will, as always, support the DPRK's economic development and improving people's livelihood,” Mr. Wen reportedly told the North Korean leader.
China's media had, until Friday, blacked out all coverage of the visit of the North Korean leader, who insists on a high degree of secrecy for his state visits citing security fears. He arrived in north-eastern China on Tuesday, crossing the border in his armoured train. Mr. Kim has a fear of flying.
Much of the focus this past week has been on the extreme secrecy with which the Chinese authorities have handled the visit, as well as on the massive security arrangements that have been put in place.
An entire town in the north-east was essentially under police lockdown, and reporters had been barred from covering any part of the trip.
Japanese journalists who managed to sneak a photograph of a frail-looking and limping Mr. Kim leaving a luxury hotel in the city of Dalian were detained by police.
Official confirmation of Mr. Kim's “unofficial visit” came only after the North Korean leader was safely back in his home country on Friday.
Even on Thursday afternoon, the Foreign Ministry claimed it “had no information” over Mr. Kim's visit, though grainy television images broadcast on South Korean media had left little doubt over his presence in the only country he can call an ally.