N. Korea’s Kim Hosts China Visitors in First Diplomatic Act

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with a delegation of China’s Communist Party in Pyongyang in his first act of diplomacy reported by the state-run news agency since he took power in December.

Kim hosted a dinner yesterday for the Chinese group led by Wang Jiarui, head of the Communist Party’s international liaison department, the Korean Central News Agency said today. Kim sent his regards to Chinese President Hu Jintao, according to KCNA.

While Kim has been in power for almost eight months, most diplomatic correspondence and the receiving of visiting foreign dignitaries have been undertaken by Choe Yong Rim, head of Cabinet, or Choe Thae Bok, head of parliament. Kim consolidated his control over the military last month by taking the top rank of marshal, days after removing the army chief.

“This is the first official event and diplomatic meeting that Kim is hosting since becoming leader,” said Yoo Ho Yeol, a professor of North Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul. “It’s very natural that Kim Jong Un is now able to act like a statesman because he has finally obtained all of the official titles to justify his status as leader.”

Trading Partner

China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and ally, with commerce last year accounting for 89 percent of North Korea’s total, at $5.6 billion, according to data collected by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency in Seoul. North Korea doesn’t release economic data.

China urged restraint from North Korea after it fired a long-range rocket on April 13, in a sign of tension between the the two countries. North Korea announced that the rocket launch was a failure.

“The friendly nature of the meeting with the Chinese signals that the tenseness caused by the April rocket launch has thawed,” said Yoo.

The launch cost North Korea a deal with the U.S. for 240,000 metric tons of food that was promised in exchange for a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests. The United Nations said in June that about 16 million of North Korea’s 24 million people suffer from chronic food insecurity, high malnutrition rates, and deep-rooted economic challenges.

Rains, Flooding

North Korea, hit by torrential rains and flooding last month, has asked for emergency supplies, including food, the UN said yesterday.

The government in Pyongyang “requested that the UN release its pre-positioned emergency stocks, including food and fuel” after more than 100 people died and 100,000 lost their homes, Martin Nesirky, spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, said in a statement on Ban’s website. Nesirky didn’t say whether supplies will be provided.

North Korea needs immediate food assistance and better access to clean water to avoid diseases, the office of Jerome Sauvage, the UN resident coordinator in Pyongyang, said in an e-mailed report yesterday after making two visits with the Red Cross and other NGOs on July 31 to the three most affected counties.

While the U.S. would “carefully evaluate” sending assistance if requested by the North Korean government, it isn’t “at that point,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters yesterday in Washington, according to an e-mailed transcript of the briefing.

The North Korean government hasn’t requested U.S. assistance, Ventrell said.

Typhoon Khanun

The rainy season in North Korea began on July 18 as Typhoon Khanun struck the Korean peninsula, hitting northwestern coastal areas the hardest. Torrential rains and flooding between July 18 and 24 inundated or washed away tens of thousands of homes, roads, farmland and embankments. The rains set in after the country’s worst drought in a century threatened wheat, barley and potato harvests.

Rains on July 29 and 30 further destroyed or damaged more than 4,900 homes and flooded 8,530 others, leaving 21,370 people homeless, KCNA said yesterday. More than 179,000 tons of coal were washed away, and scores of mine pits inundated northeast of Pyongyang, the news agency said in a separate report.

Damage to the mining industry endangers the nation’s ability to export its underground minerals, one of the few legitimate ways for the impoverished regime to earn foreign currency. Last year, North Korea exported $1.2 billion of minerals, 97 percent of which went to China, North Korea’s biggest trade partner and ally, according to a June 1 report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency in Seoul.

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