Kim tells China he will be flexible on arms

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The Independent Online

It was supposed to be secret but everyone knew it could only be Kim Jong Il arriving when a vast armoured train pulled into Beijing's crowded station to ecstatic cheers and flags waved by a welcoming party of loyal North Koreans.

It was supposed to be secret but everyone knew it could only be Kim Jong Il arriving when a vast armoured train pulled into Beijing's crowded station to ecstatic cheers and flags waved by a welcoming party of loyal North Koreans.

Dozens of armed police shut down the station until unmarked cars pulled out, taking the North Korean leader and his entourage to a series of meetings with China's leaders.

On a rare foreign trip, Kim told his hosts he would be patient, flexible and engaged in talks on his nuclear programmes - telling them what they hoped to hear at the end of an unannounced three-day visit.

China's state media yesterday broke a news blackout to show footage of a smiling Kim sharing bear hugs with China's leaders. Kim was "satisfied" with results of his unofficial visit at the invitation of Chinese President and Communist Party chief, Hu Jintao, and the two sides reached consensus on the nuclear issue.

The trip came a week after the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, visited China with new evidence of the North's possession of nuclear arms, warning that time was running out to end the stalemate. In turn, China has put pressure on North Korea to comply with US demands.

Kim told Hu that his country would "continue to take a patient and flexible manner and actively participate in the six-party talks process, and make its own contributions to the progress of the talks". North Korea "sticks to the final nuclear weapon-free goal and its basic position on seeking a peaceful solution through dialogue has not changed", it said.

Kim visited a model high-income farm, ate Peking duck and went to the municipality of Tianjin, near Beijing. China's state television news devoted 12 minutes - an unusually longtime - to Kim, showing him at a banquet and waving as his train departed.

Choi Choon-heum, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said the fact it was an unofficial visit indicated it was a result of strong Chinese demands. "The countries emphasised the closeness of the bilateral relationship. I think that part means Kim asked for more economic assistance from China and that it will lead to more Chinese economic support," he said. "In return, I think Kim will accept some of China's terms, such as the fast establishment of working-group talks."

At the last round of six-way talks in February, the parties agreed to set up working groups but nothing has happened since. Diplomats said hopes were fading that such groups could meet this month. South Korea's Foreign Ministry said Seoul hoped that Kim's visit would "contribute to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, dialogue and co-operation between the South and the North, and to a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem".

In the 1980s, Kim denounced China's economic reforms and fostered a military alliance with the dying Soviet Union. Relations revived only when the North turned to Beijing for economic aid in 1998.

Kim Jong Il has allowed three million people to starve to death rather than take a step towards Chinese-style rural reforms, but is now forced into the embrace of his giant neighbour. To prevent the North's collapse, Beijing is thought to be providing up to a billion dollars of food, oil and other basic necessities.

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