China has underlined its support for North Korea’s efforts to rebuild its economy, after a meeting between Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, and Jang Song-Thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Mr Jang, 66, is thought by many to be the regent behind his young nephew, Kim Jong-un, and to hold considerable sway over the North Korean army.
He is the most senior member of the North Korean government to visit China since Mr Kim came to power in December and has spent this week touring two Chinese provinces and discussing further economic aid and co-operation.
The younger Kim has put North Korea’s broken economy at the top of his agenda, and Mr Jang’s visit included discussions for Chinese investment in two economic zones on the Sino-North Korean border, and a reported request for more economic aid.
China is North Korea’s main benefactor, responsible for 89 per cent of its foreign trade.
“Jang hailed efforts by the Chinese side to develop the zones. He said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is willing to make joint efforts with China to firmly implement the important consensus reached by both leaders so as to lift the traditional DPRK-China friendship to a new height,” a report carried by the state-run Xinhua said, adding, “The two sides also exchanged views on their domestic situations and other issues of common concern.” Mr Hu praised Mr Jang for his “huge amount of work for the friendly relations between China and North Korea as two neighbouring countries,” the official China News Service reported.
However, the message of support from China was marred by an embarrassing attack from a Chinese mining company, which accused its North Korean partners of tearing up a multi-million-dollar contract and threatening its Chinese staff “Xiyang Group’s investment in North Korea was a nightmare, and we were taking our lives in our hands when we entered the tiger’s lair,” the company, which was the single biggest investor in North Korea in 2011, said.
Xiyang signed a 240 million yuan (£24 million) deal to build an iron ore mine, but said its North Korean partners were like a “criminal gang” and that North Korean officials demanded gifts and prostitutes on their visits to China.
It added that after production began in April last year, the North Koreans annulled the deal, and “used violent methods” against Xiyang’s staff, cutting off their water and electricity and smashing the windows of their living quarters. Xiyang was finally kicked out of the country on March 3.