BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea needs a stable region to develop and wants to return to nuclear disarmament talks, the country's leader, Kim Jong-il, said during his latest secretive trip to China, which prodded its poor neighbor to open up.
This week's trip was Kim's third to Asia's biggest economy in just over a year, and it featured stops that may offer lessons for his own tattered and top-down controlled economy, battered by wide-ranging U.N. sanctions.
Kim's summit with President Hu Jintao brought no breakthrough on stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks, but Kim indicated he was not spoiling for fresh fights, after a year when South Korea blamed the North for sinking a navy ship and shelling an island, sparking confrontation.
"North Korea is now focusing its energies on economic development, and really needs a stable environment around it," Kim told Chinese President Hu Jintao, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.
"We hope there will be an easing on the Korean peninsula, are adhering to the goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and advocate restarting the six-party talks. We have always maintained sincerity about improving relations between north and south."
China has used Kim's visits to urge him to return to negotiations aimed at ending his nuclear weapons program. North Korea alarmed the region with atomic test blasts in 2006 and 2009 that drew U.N. sanctions backed by China.
The North, which technically remains at war with the South because the 1950-53 Korean war ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, is blamed for two deadly attacks on the South last year.
Those attacks -- the March 2010 sinking of the corvette Cheonan and the shelling of the Yeonpyeong island in November -- have made it difficult for talks to resume, though there are hints that a fresh effort may be in the offing.
Hu told Kim that all sides should "remain calm and restrained, show flexibility, remove obstacles, improve relations and make positive efforts to ultimately accomplish peace, stability and development on the peninsula," according to Xinhua.
BUFFER AND BURDEN
"China positively evaluates the active efforts that North Korea has made in easing the situation on the Korean peninsula and in improving its external environment," Hu said.
He said all sides needed to "show flexibility and eradicate obstructions to improve mutual relations" on the divided and often volatile Korean peninsula.
Kim's armored train rolled out of Beijing on Thursday afternoon, accompanied by the heavy security that has been his calling card in a visit through northeast China to the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu and then to Beijing.
Chinese television showed pictures of Kim visiting a dairy farm, a truck factory in the northeastern city of Changchun and a technology center in Yangzhou where he inspected devices including what appeared to be a tablet computer.
In the past, Kim has rarely traveled abroad and then only in his personal train. He is believed to be afraid of flying.
For China, its much smaller and poorer neighbor is both a buffer and a burden.
China sees North Korea as a strategic barrier against the United States and its regional allies. But that barrier comes with an economic and diplomatic price tag.
As North Korea's ties with the South and much of the outside world have soured, Kim has leaned more on ally China for support, which has cost China both in economic aid and in strains with South Korea and other nations alarmed by North Korea's nuclear weapons development and military brinkmanship.
North Korea has been lobbying the world for food aid and analysts say Kim also wants to shore up China's support for his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, to eventually take over the dynasty that has ruled the North since its founding.
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina and Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robeert Birsel)
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