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China welcomes Kim Yong-il

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James Reynolds | 11:59 UK time, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Kim Yong-il of North Korea is in China.

Kim Yong IlNews of his visit generated quite a bit of excitement when it was first announced. North Korea's leader rarely travels outside his own country. No-one knows much about his exact state of health. And he's about to launch a rocket.

But then we read the name more carefully: Kim Yong-il. Not Kim Jong-il.

North Korea's ultimate leader (Jong with a J) is still at home in Pyongyang. Here in Beijing, we've been treated to a visit by North Korea's premier (Yong with a Y).

Kim Yong-il has come to celebrate 60 years of diplomatic relations between North Korea and China. The two states are neighbours and trading partners. Recent history shows that North Korea tends to plough its own course in the world, without spending huge amounts of time listening to others. But many believe that when China talks, North Korea has to listen.

China argues that it has worked patiently to end North Korea's isolation. Since 2003, China has hosted several rounds of diplomatic talks here in Beijing aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. But those negotiations - called the Six Party talks - have yet to achieve any kind of lasting breakthrough -diplomatic speak for "they're stuck".

In April, North Korea says that it will launch a communications satellite. Other countries - led by the United States - believe that this may be cover for a long-range missile test.

Kim Yong-il's visit to Beijing comes just weeks before this launch. It may be the best chance yet for North Korea to explain to outsiders exactly what it's planning to do.

Of course, Kim Yong-il hasn't given anything away during his public events here in China. I've just come back from the Great Hall of the People where I watched him attend an official welcome ceremony.

Wen Jiabao and Kim Yong-il inspect Chinese troopsKim Yong Il was greeted at the front door by China's Premier Wen Jiabao. The two exchanged three hugs - probably standard premier-to-premier protocol.

The two men then listened to their national anthems and walked along a red carpet to inspect a guard of honour. Wen Jiabao turned his head towards the troops. Kim Yong-il's peripheral vision must be acute - since he was able to inspect the troops to his left without ever needing to turn his head.

The two then led their delegations into a formal reception/negotiating room (the kind with a table the size of an aircraft carrier). After a few photos, the media was escorted out. And the talks began.


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