Rather like the trial of the Rio 4, we shall only officially know of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s visit to Beijing once it is over. But, by all other accounts, he is there, making his first visit for four years.
It comes when he needs China’s help to prop up his impoverished economy and to deal with the consequences of the sinking of a South Korean warship last month of which his regime is widely regarded as being in someway complicit. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak discussed the incident with President Hu Jintao when the two men were in Shanghai for the opening of the Expo. Hu certainly won’t want that issue to blow up, though, equally, it won’t abandon its ally.
Beijing’s long game is to increase its economic influence through investment in North Korea at the expense of the pro-U.S. South or Japan. (Beyong 10 Chinese mining investments in North Korea, keep an eye on Chinese activity at Rajin, the North Korean port to which China is building a highway, giving its north-eastern provinces access to Asia’s most northerly ice-free port.) Short term, it can play the good neighbor with Washington, Seoul and Tokyo by using its economic sway over Kim to bring him back to the stalled six-party nuclear talks.