Kim tours Beijing TCM factory to seek biz opportunity

By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/9 22:13:40

China likely to play key role in economic development of North Korea: analyst

A vehicle in the motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is seen in Beijing on Wednesday. Kim arrived in Beijing on Tuesday as preparations reportedly ramped up in Pyongyang and Washington for an expected second US-North Korea leaders' summit with US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) factory in Beijing on Wednesday, one day after his 35th birthday, in a choice of location apparently linked to economic development opportunities for his country outside the remit of current UN sanctions.

The visit to the Tong Ren Tang plant in Yizhuang, a State economic and technological development zone in the southeast of Beijing, showed Kim was seeking economic cooperation with China to improve the North Korean people's living conditions as opposed to boosting its military industrial facilities or nuclear program, Chinese observers noted on Wednesday. 

Kim was believed to be on his way back to North Korea after international media reported a train carrying him and his entourage was seen pulling out of a railway station in Beijing on Wednesday afternoon.

Medicinal materials are not on the list of UN sanctions related to North Korea and for this reason Pyongyang may be eyeing cooperation opportunities with traditional Chinese medicine, said Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Founded in 1669, Tong Ren Tang pharmaceutical company is the world's largest producer of TCM. 

Headquartered in Beijing, the company manufactures traditional Chinese drugs and operates traditional Chinese drugstores predominantly in Chinese-speaking regions worldwide, according to the company website.

"Another main reason for Kim's visit to Tong Ren Tang is that the medicine industry is directly related to the livelihood and healthcare of ordinary North Korean people," Zheng said. 

Modernizing industry

Kim said in his New Year address on January 1 that "we should ensure that all the people realize the advantages of the socialist public health system by modernizing pharmaceutical and medical appliance factories, upgrading medical institutions and raising the level of medical service," according to North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.

Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences in Shenyang, told the Global Times on Wednesday that traditional Chinese medicine was also popular on the Korean Peninsula and "North Korea has rich resources of medicinal herbs, especially Korean ginseng, which plays a highly valuable role on the list of North Korean national gifts." 

Thus pharmaceutical industry cooperation between China and North Korea has great potential to boost North Korea's economic development as well as its people's health and living conditions, Lü noted.

Chinese observers believe another key reason for Kim's visit was a meeting with US President Donald Trump expected later this year.

Opportunity for Kim

The second meeting with Trump will surely touch on the thorny issue of sanctions and Kim needs to be well-prepared  for such an opportunity, said Cheng Xiaohe, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China's School of International Studies in Beijing.

"Kim wants China to play a key role in the future economic development of his country," Cheng said.

As of the press time, China and North Korean official media had not released any information about any meeting between Kim and Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and Chinese president.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said at a routine press conference on Wednesday that Kim was invited by Xi so Kim would surely meet and talk to Xi. 

As to the details of such a meeting, Lu said, "please wait for the formal release."

Information about North Korean leaders' activities in China are always released after the North Korean leaders leave Chinese territory, observers said, as an unwritten rule of China-North Korea diplomatic relations.

China and North Korea established formal diplomatic ties in 1949, and 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the relationship.

Analysts noted that Kim's visit also shows that he wants to gain China's support to promote the economic development of his country.

In December 2018, when North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho visited Beijing, Xi called on the two sides to take the occasion to promote the long-term, healthy and steady development of bilateral relations when talking about celebration activities for the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Chinese side supports the North Korean people to explore a development path suited to its national conditions under the leadership of Kim and hopes that North Korea will have a promising future in all its endeavors, Xi said.


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