|SLUG: 2-268147 China - North Korea (L-O)||DATE:||NOTE NUMBER:|
TITLE=CHINA / NORTH KOREA (L-O)
BYLINE=LETA HONG FINCHER
INTRO: China is hailing the warming diplomatic ties between North Korea and the international community, as Britain announces the normalization of relations and the U-S secretary of state prepares for a landmark visit to Pyongyang next week. China also say it is preparing for President Jiang Zemin to visit North Korea, but refuses to confirm the date. Correspondent Leta Hong Fincher reports from Beijing.
TEXT: China's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhu Bangzao says China welcomes the progress made in normalizing relations between North Korea and Western countries.
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Mr. Zhu says the Chinese government has always supported any move to promote peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. He says China hopes that North Korea will continue its trend of improving and establishing diplomatic relations with others in the international community.
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Mr. Zhu adds that China's own relations with North Korea are what he calls very good. But he refused to confirm reports by a South Korean newspaper that President Jiang Zemin is on his way to North Korea, telling reporters there was no need for speculation.
Earlier this month, the Foreign Ministry said that Mr. Jiang had accepted an invitation from President Kim Jong Il to visit North Korea, but that so far no date had been set for the visit.
Such a visit would be the first by a Chinese president and would be an attempt by Beijing to keep up its influence with its isolated,
communist ally. In light of the détente between long-estranged North and South Korea, as well as Pyongyang's warming relations with the United States and Great Britain, Beijing seems anxious to play an important role in Asia's changing balance of power.
/// OPT /// Ordinarily, Chinese leaders announce diplomatic trips in advance. But North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's ground-breaking trip to Beijing in May was kept secret until after Mr. Kim had returned to Pyongyang. Mr. Kim's China visit helped pave the way for the landmark summit between North and South Korea in Pyongyang last June. /// END OPT ///
Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji is currently meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung in Seoul, in part to discuss China's role in any future reunification between South and North Korea. Beijing supported the communist North in the Korean War of 1950 to 1953, and did not establish diplomatic ties with the South until 1992. (SIGNED)