N. Korea heir formally invited to China: South Korea spy agency

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 18, 2011 4:11 PM
N. Korea heir formally invited to China: South Korea spy agency

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) - China has formally invited North Korea's leader-in-waiting to visit, but it was not clear when Kim Jong-un would make the trip, a South Korean lawmaker said on Saturday, quoting a senior spy agency official.

China is the only major power isolated North Korea can count on as an ally. Jong-un is North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's youngest son and heir apparent, who came into the public eye in September when he was named to a senior ruling party post and promoted to the rank of four-star general.

South Korea's spy agency believes Jong-un is likely to accept the invitation and visit Beijing soon, said the lawmaker who is a member of the parliament intelligence committee after a closed-door briefing on Friday.

Senior officials from the spy agency attended the briefing, and members of parliament are asked not to disclose the information they were briefed on, the lawmaker said, declining to be identified.

Little is known about Jong-un other than he is in his late 20s and had a Swiss education. South Korean officials said the North's official media have been on a campaign to paint him as the person best fit for leadership of the state founded by his grandfather.

The visit, if it takes place, will boost Jong-un's standing as the North's next leader, as China remains the reclusive North's main economic and political backer.

Jong-un is likely to ask China for large-scale economic aid when he visits, a Japanese newspaper reported earlier last week, adding he could go as early as this month, after the end of China's National People's Congress meeting.

China has stood by the North even when Pyongyang was harshly criticized after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship last year, which Seoul blames on its neighbor, and the shelling of a South Korean island in November that killed four people.

Tensions peaked on the Korean peninsula after those attacks, with the rivals nations threatening war, but tensions have since eased and South Korea's president has called for dialogue.

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)