North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visited China for about seven days from May 20. It was his third visit to China in a year. He traveled more than 4,000 km on a special train. Both Beijing and Pyongyang are mum about his visit. But it seems that the main purpose of his visit was to appeal for economic cooperation from China.

He mainly visited economic development zones in China. His destinations included a solar power panel factory in Yangzhou and a liquid crystal factory in Nanjing, both in Jiangsu Province. And on May 25, he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing.

South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported the next day that China agreed to actively take part in North Korea’s development project on Hwanggumpyong Island in the Yalu River (China-North Korea border).

In exchange, China reportedly will get the right to use a wharf in the port of Rajin in North Korea, which faces the Sea of Japan.

While in Tokyo on May 22, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had told South Korean President Lee Myung Bak that Mr. Kim was invited to China to help him understand how China’s economy has developed so that he can apply the knowledge to his own country. During his previous visit to China in August, Mr. Kim was urged by Mr. Hu to push economic reform in the North.

North Korea plans to become a “powerful and prosperous” country by 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea — who is Mr. Kim’s father.

To smooth the power transfer to his third son, Kim Jong Un, Mr. Kim needs to stabilize and strengthen his country’s economic foundation.

His task will be difficult because his country’s isolation has deepened as a result of international sanctions against it over its nuclear test and the stoppage of trade with South Korea following the North’s artillery attack on the South’s Yeongpyeong Island in November. North Korea also suffers from a severe food shortage.

In this situation, China is the only country the North can rely on for economic reconstruction. North Korea should realize that its isolation will end only when it shows concrete signs of dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

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