With the BBC today quoting South Korean media as reporting that Kim Jong-il is in the process of making an official visit to China (his second within a year), it is evident that relations between North Korea (DPRK) and the People's Republic remain on a good footing, despite the tensions caused in the Korean region by the sinking of a South Korean warship in March (for which the North has been blamed).
As usual, Chinese media looks set not to announce the visit officially until the North Korean leader has returned to Pyongyang. However, according to the Xinhua New Agency, Wu Dawei (China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs) landed in South Korea on Thursday, having visited the DPRK just a week earlier. These visits put together suggest a strong desire on the part of Beijing to try and stabilise the Korea 'situation' in the wake of the crisis in March. In addition, China will probably be looking to get the 6 nation talks on North Korean disarmament going again after they were scuppered earlier this year.
The reason for this is straightforward enough. The troubles in the Peninsula have placed a continual strain on US-China ties. With America committed to supporting Seoul, and with China anxious to protect the sovereignty of the DPRK (Chinese aid is vital to the survival of the country's economy), tensions between the two Koreas inevitably asks questions of the relationship between Washington and Beijing- questions that both could do without. Talks over the disarmament of the DPRK, were they to be successful, would undoubtedly ease this strain. In the context of this, China will be hoping to use Kim Jong-il's visit to its advantage.
The BBC also raised the question over whether the North Korean leader's trip may have a succession aspect to it. With Kim Jong-il rumoured to have had a stroke 2 years ago, he is reportedly looking to secure his son (Kim Jong-un) as the DPRK's next leader. As the senior communist power in Asia, China will be able to exert a large influence over proceedings once Kim Jong-il is deceased. The Supreme Leader will be hoping that China backs his preferred successor, rather than (with the aim of easing tensions between North and South) attempting to end the dominance of the Kim dynasty in North Korean politics.