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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could go to China on his first foreign trip since taking power, China’s ambassador to South Korea said on Wednesday, according to a report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
The 31-year-old leader assumed power after his father, Kim Jong-il, died suddenly in 2011. China is North Korea’s closest ally and main benefactor.
“I think that a visit from Kim Jong-un might materialise sometime in the future,” Chinese Ambassador Qiu Guohong was quoted by Yonhap as saying at a forum in Seoul.
“China and North Korea have maintained a normal relationship and there have been normal exchanges of visits between the leaders of both countries,” he said.
President Xi Jinping has not yet visited the reclusive North but made a state visit to South Korea in July, a move widely reported at the time as a snub to North Korea by Beijing.
China has spearheaded diplomatic efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme but has not been fully successful in exerting pressure after a series of UN sanctions imposed because of the North’s atomic and missile tests.
“I don’t think that should be closely tied to the question of whether China-North Korea relations are good or bad,” Qiu said, referring to the timing of Kim’s visit to China.
It is still not clear if Kim has fully consolidated his grip over the isolated country. His father, Kim Jong-il, waited six years while asserting his leadership at home before travelling to China for the first time.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was the target of a recent assassination attempt, says South Korean intelligence.
The Telegraph reports that the alleged murder plot may have been the work of a faction loyal to Kim Yong-chol, a four-star general who was demoted last year to two stars before being restored to his previous rank and rehabilitated. While reports on the exact timing of the attack are sketchy, rumors of an exchange of gunfire in Pyongyang last November may be related to this incident.
As recently as February 2012, Gen. Kim was considered one of the closest allies of Kim Jong-un, who had just succeeded his father Kim Jong-il. Known for his aggressive, militaristic demeanor, Kim Yong-chol was the driving force behind the infamous March 2010 sinking of a South Korean military ship. He is also believed to have played a critical role in the decision to bomb South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island later that same year, killing four and wounding dozens in the process.
Kim’s star continued to rise until last year, when a power struggle between the intelligence department of the ruling Workers' Party and a division of the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces resulted in his demotion. That same power struggle was likely responsible for last November’s rumored battle in Pyongyang. "The people who were purged after the gunfight could be related to the assassination attempt," said a South Korean intelligence official.