N. Korea's Kim signals support for freer trade

On visit to China, leader praises market reforms


BEIJING - North Korean leader Kim Jong Il returned home yesterday from a secretive five-day visit to China after giving the strongest signals yet that he hopes to begin opening his country's isolated, controlled economy to outside investment and market forces.

Kim spent nearly all the visit, his second to China since May, touring companies and discussing economic issues in Shanghai, China's commercial hub. In a meeting with President Jiang Zemin yesterday in Beijing, Kim fully endorsed the pro-market policies that have transformed China over the past 20 years, according to Chinese accounts.

"Mr. Kim stressed that the big changes that have taken place in China, and Shanghai in particular, since China began its reform and opening-up have proved that the policies pursued by the Chinese Communist Party and people are correct," said Zhu Bangzao, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, at a news conference last night.

Chinese diplomats said they considered Kim's remarks significant, especially because he had visited Shanghai in 1983, when the market reforms were just getting started, and criticized China at the time for "revisionism."

Kim specifically asked to visit Shanghai on this trip, where he toured joint-venture enterprises of General Motors and of a Japanese semiconductor manufacturer as well as the stock exchange, the new Pudong commercial development zone and other companies. For part of the visit he was accompanied by China's pragmatic prime minister, Zhu Rongji.

Earlier this month, in another sign that changes are brewing, North Korean official news media featured unusual editorials that called for "new ways of thinking" about the economy, foreign analysts noted.

Fearing a disastrous collapse of the economy and government, Chinese leaders have for years been gingerly urging the often-prickly North Koreans to consider major economic change. In the past decade, North Korea's economy went into a tailspin after it lost subsidies from the disintegrating Soviet Union and then suffered natural disasters. Millions of its citizens have suffered malnutrition.

As he did in May, Kim insisted that his visit to China be kept secret until after he left, but his entourage in Shanghai was too large and active to stay out of sight.

In the briefing last night, Zhu did not comment on whether China has urged the North Koreans to curb their missile program, which, by alarming Japan and the United States, has undermined China's opposition to Western missile defenses.

But he said, "China is opposed to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and sincerely hopes to see a relaxation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula," and stressed China's support for North and South Korea's recent steps toward reconciliation.

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