North Korea's new leader hosted a dinner in Pyongyang for senior political officials visiting from China, state media said Friday, in what marked Kim Jong Un's diplomatic debut and a sign that he is turning his attention to foreign affairs.
Kim talked with a Chinese delegation led by Wang Jiarui, head of the Communist Party's international affairs office, and then invited the group to a dinner attended by North Korea's political elite, according to the Korean Central News Agency. Kim told Wang that the North Korean government is focused on boosting the economy, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.
The meeting marks Kim's first official diplomatic foray since he took over as leader following the December death of his father, Kim Jong Il. Kim, who is believed to be 29, has been swift in moving to build loyalty among North Korea's 24 million people and to establish control over key institutions such as the military and ruling Workers' Party.
He also has been quick to show his rule will differ in focus and style from that of his father, who kept his personal life out of the state media, rarely traveled abroad and met only selectively with foreign dignitaries. After gaining the new title of marshal and shuffling the military leadership last month, Kim Jong Un made the surprise introduction of his wife, Ri Sol Ju.
At Thursday's talks with the Chinese, he reiterated his government's focus on building the economy, according to Xinhua. Seated next to him was Vice Premier Kang Sok Ju, the seasoned diplomat who accompanied Kim's father to China last year. "Developing the economy and improving livelihoods so that the (North) Korean people lead happy and civilized lives is the goal the Workers' Party is struggling towards," the news agency reported Kim as telling Wang.
Photos showed the two men standing shoulder to shoulder as they posed for a group portrait, Wang in a Western-style suit and Kim in a dark blue Mao jacket with the pin bearing his father and grandfather's portraits affixed to his chest.
China, which sent troops to support North Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War, remains Pyongyang's main ally and biggest benefactor. That relationship has deepened in recent years as North Korea increasingly turns to China to provide much-needed food, oil and trade and oil.
While North Korea founder Kim Il Sung welcomed a string of foreign guests and traveled overseas regularly until his death in 1994, Kim Jong Il met few visitors during his later years and rarely traveled abroad — though only by train.
However, he made an exception for neighboring China, traveling by train four times during the last two years of his life on trips focused on learning about the country's new market economy.
Wang Jiarui, a regular visitor to Pyongyang who has made several trips this year already, accompanied Kim Jong Il during his visit to China last August. Kim Jong Un has yet to make his first trip abroad as leader but is widely expected to follow his grandfather's footsteps by traveling overseas. He already has demonstrated more of a willingness to rub shoulders with foreigners, including Westerners, than his father.
Foreign diplomats and officials were among those invited to attend the opening ceremony late last month of the new Rungna Island fairgrounds. One KCNA photo showed a British diplomat, Barnaby Jones, seated on a roller coaster one row from Kim — an image that sparked speculation in foreign media about Kim's mysterious foreign friend.
Footage aired on state TV on Friday also showed ambassadors and other foreign officials seated just a few rows behind Kim at a dolphin show.
Friday on Worldview:
Bruce Cumings, author of The Korean War: A History and history professor at The University of Chicago, takes us inside the new North Korean regime.