By Graham Earnshaw, Reuters
PYONGYANG, Dec 3, Reuter – Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is likely to pay an official visit to North Korea next year to consolidate the increasingly close ties between Moscow and Pyongyang, informed sources here said.
They said a visit by Gorbachev, which would be the first to Pyongyang by a top Soviet leader, would be in return for North Korean President Kim Il-sung’s week-long trip to Moscow in October.
“It would be reasonable to expect a Gorbachev visit to North Korea sometime next year,” one source said, but did not elaborate.
The reasons for Kim’s surprise trip to Moscow were not revealed at the time but the official Korean Central News Agency yesterday indicated he had reached an agreement on military cooperation with Gorbachev.
The agency reported that Soviet General Alexei Lizichev arrived in Pyongyang on Monday for talks on expanding military cooperation between the Soviet Union and North Korea “in accordance with the agreement reached at the (Kim-Gorbachev) talks.”
Soviet bombers travelling between the Soviet Far East and Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam began overflying North Korea soon after the Kim-Gorbachev meeting, U.S. Admiral Ace Lyons told reporters during a U.S. warship visit to China last month.
North Korea traditionally maintained a balance in its relations with its two huge neighbours, China and the Soviet Union. But ties with Moscow have surged in the past two years while those with Peking have noticeably cooled.
The sources said the Chinese were clearly anxious about Moscow’s increasing influence here and the implications of a shift by Pyongyang into the Soviet camp.
Soviet warships paid a goodwill visit to North Korea’s east coast port of Wonsan last year and Moscow is widely reported to have sold Pyongyang about 50 MiG-23 jet fighters.
The sources confirmed reports that North Korea had also offered to allow Soviet naval ship visits to the west coast port of Nampo where a huge barrage has been built across the river estuary to allow ships of 50,000 tonnes into the harbour.
The sources said Moscow had offered North Korea a nuclear power plant but added that engineers were still searching for a suitable site.
Other sources said a whole range of factors were driving the North Korean communist leadership away from Peking and closer to Moscow.
They said Moscow was more able than Peking to provide the advanced military equipment North Korea wants for its confrontation with South Korea and more willing to provide large-scale economic aid.
According to some foreign sources in Pyongyang, President Kim’s son and heir, Kim Jong-il, favours moving North Korea closer to Moscow, and the trend has certainly coincided with his rise to power over the past few years.
Sources said the North Koreans were clearly annoyed at the Chinese for their growing trade with South Korea and with China’s participation in the Asian Games in Seoul in October.
North Korea, which has one of the most rigidly centralised economies in the communist world and few contacts with the outside world, was also worried by China’s economic open-door policy and its efforts to attract investment from western capitalists, they said.
Pyongyang’s pro-Moscow shift has serious implications for the strategic balance in northeast Asia, analysts said.
“If Kim Jong-il really is intent on moving North Korea into the Soviet camp, the Chinese have good reason to be worried by the prospect of him taking over from his father,” said one foreign analyst. REUTER NNNN