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Kim Jong Il Said to be Planning Trip to China

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is likely to visit China later this month, Japan’s Mainichi newspaper reported today.

According to the Japanese paper, Kim will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss aid issues and the North Korean nuclear program. Kim’s last trip abroad took place four years ago when he visited China in January of 2006.

China remains North Korea’s biggest ally and has helped buffer the regime form increasing pressure by the United States, Japan and South Korea to return to the negotiating table over nuclear disarmament talks. In 2008, China accounted for 73 percent of North Korea’s international commerce, according to figures from the Korea Trade- Investment Promotion Agency in Seoul.

Continuing UN sanctions imposed after a second nuclear test last May have now really begun to affect the economy and weaken the North Korean government’s ability to feed its people, especially following a disastrous currency reevaluation last November that triggered rapid inflation and food shortages.

North Korea recently marked Kim’s 68th birthday on February 16, celebrating with mass celebrations and dance shows. While the mood was appropriately jubilant – Kim was described as “the most outstanding political elder and peerlessly brilliant commander of the present era” – the fragile state of the North Korean economy and Kim’s own health issues have heightened anxiety among analysts over the country’s future.

This fragile state has lead most experts to suspect North Korea will return to the six party talks soon. “Kim’s China visit, which is highly likely, heightens the prospects of the disarmament talks resuming,” Park Joon Young, a professor of international relations at Ewha Womans University told Bloomberg News.

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