China signs new economic deals with North Korea

File image showing Kim Jong-un in foreground and Chang Song-taek in background on 12 February 2012
Image caption Chang Song-taek is seen as a key power behind young leader Kim Jong-un

China says it has signed agreements stepping up economic co-operation with North Korea during a visit to Beijing by a senior Pyongyang official.

The Commerce Ministry said these included the development of two special economic zones.

The deals came as Chang Song-taek, uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and believed to be a key influence on him, visited China

Meanwhile, Japan says it will also hold talks with North Korea this month.

This will be the first time in four years that Japan and North Korea will hold government-level talks, officials in Tokyo say.

Economic problems

China's Commerce Ministry said that a management committee to oversee two economic zones would be established with North Korea.

One is in Rason, on North Korea's east coast, and the other is in Hwanggumphyong, on the border with China.

The two countries also signed agreements on agricultural co-operation and electricity supply.

Chang Song-taek, who is married to late leader Kim Jong-il's sister, is visiting Beijing amid signs the impoverished state wants to tackle its economic problems.

He was named a vice-chairman of the powerful National Defence Commission in 2009, and before that had a number of high-profile roles in the party. He accompanied Kim Jong-il, who died in December 2011, on several of his foreign trips.