--The Asahi Shimbun, May 31
EDITORIAL: China not the only country needed to push reforms in North Korea
North Korea's close ties with China, its ally in the Korean War (1950-1953), have traditionally been described as "friendship cemented with blood." Now, however, it seems their relationship is based more on the practical needs of both sides than on their shared memories of the war.
That may be the reason why the hug between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and Chinese President Hu Jintao during their meeting in Beijing last week looked somewhat formal and distant.
Even so, North Korea is becoming more dependent on China, both economically and diplomatically.
Kim's latest visit to China is the third in about a year--unusual frequency.
Since his previous visit to China, North Korea has shown its uranium enrichment facility to a U.S. expert and fired artillery at a South Korean island. These actions by Pyongyang have made the security situation in the Korean Peninsula even more serious.
If so, it is all the more important for China to use its clout with North Korea more forcefully to persuade the hermetically sealed regime in Pyongyang to behave in a way that will help break the diplomatic impasse over its nuclear program and other issues.
Explaining Kim's visit to China in his recent talks with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing gave the North Korean leader an opportunity to learn how China has achieved its economic growth and use the knowledge for the sake of his own country.
Wen's remarks indicate Chinese leaders are hoping to see North Korea start taking steps toward meaningful reforms so that the impoverished nation will not collapse and plunge into total chaos, thereby causing serious trouble to China.
As if acting in accordance with Beijing's wishes, Kim inspected afresh economically advanced areas during his stay in China.
By doing so, Kim apparently wanted to secure China's strong support for his country's struggle to revive its dilapidated economy just as it is preparing for the centennial of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the late founder of the nation and father of its current leader.
The 69-year-old Kim Jong Il's eight-day trip to China also demonstrated the recovery of his health.
China accounts for most of North Korea's trade. Recently, China has embarked on development of North Korean islands close to their border and improvements of ports and roads in the isolated country. China has also been a vital supplier of food and energy to North Korea.
No matter how much influence China may have on North Korea, other countries should not, of course, leave the efforts to extract changes from the regime totally in the hands of Beijing.
Japan, the United States, South Korea and Russia should make serious efforts of their own to pressure Pyongyang into taking steps forward.
In order to break the diplomatic stalemate, North Korea should first begin to show a sincere attitude toward South Korea.
During his recent meeting with China's Hu, North Korea's Kim stressed the importance of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and an early resumption of the suspended six-nation talks over his country's nuclear ambitions.
He said his country is currently concentrating on economic development and needs a stable diplomatic environment.
Regarding his country's soured relations with South Korea, Kim reportedly said he sincerely wished for improvement. It is good to hear him say so. We hope he will match his words with action.
North Korea's litany of woes due to its seemingly permanent stagnation has serious implications for Japan.
In addition to the issues of the country's nuclear and missile programs and its past abductions of Japanese citizens, the fate of the regime itself has direct bearing on Japan's national security.
We need to keep close watch on this neighbor.