* Kim emphasises economy, people's living - Xinhua
* Remarks in contrast to father's focus on military
* Expectations grow Kim may be preparing reform packages
By Chris Buckley and Ju-min Park
BEIJING/SEOUL, Aug 3 North Korea's new young
leader has told chief backer China that his priority is to
develop the decaying economy and improve living standards in one
of the world's poorest states, the latest sign that he may be
planning economic reforms.
Kim Jong-un, who took over the family dictatorship last
December, has presented a sharply contrasting image to his
austere father. He was shown most recently in public at a
Pyongyang theme park with his young wife on his arm and riding a
roller coaster in the company of a man reported to be a British
"Developing the economy and improving livelihoods, so that
the Korean people lead happy and civilized lives, is the goal
the Korean Workers' Party is struggling towards," he was quoted
by China's Xinhua news agency on Friday as telling Wang Jiarui,
visiting head of the Chinese Communist Party's International
Department and Beijing's key interlocutor with the North.
Though the report offered no details, there has been
mounting speculation that Kim's one-party state is looking at
reforms to help lift an economy dragged down by decades of
mismanagement and international sanctions, and rarely far from
Those economic problems have been compounded by drought and
then, last month, torrential rain and widespread flooding left
nearly 120 people dead, damaging some 46,000 hectares of crops.
That is equivalent to 2 percent of the North's arable land,
according to World Bank data, and the damage is certain to lower
this year's harvest, which even in good years is not enough to
feed the population.
In the face of broad sanctions over its missile and nuclear
weapons programmes, the North has been forced to rely heavily on
aid from its giant neighbour China, the nearest ostracised state
has to an ally.
Any suggestions of strain in relations were brushed aside by
the young leader, who was quoted a saying: "It is the unswerving
will of the North Korean (ruling) party and government to
continue (his father) Comrade Kim Jong-il's teachings of
constantly deepening the traditional friendship between North
Korea and China across the generations," Kim told Wang.
It appears to be the highest level diplomatic meeting Kim
has held since taking power over 7 months ago.
In a sign he may be looking to emerge from such isolation,
he has dispatched his head of parliament, Kim Yong-nam, to
Vietnam and Laos, the North Korean KCNA news agency reported.
Kim, in his late twenties, has sought to impose his own
stamp on the top leadership of North Korea, and recently ousted
Vice Marshal Ri Yong-ho, the country's leading military figure,
who was seen as close to Kim Jong-il.
Kim Jong-un was named marshal of the army in a move that
cemented his power. He already heads the Workers' Party of Korea
and is First Chairman of the National Defence Commission.
He is gearing up to experiment with agricultural and
economic reforms after purging Ri Yong-ho for opposing change, a
source with ties to both Pyongyang and Beijing told Reuters.
Experts in Beijing say their government fears that economic
malaise in North Korea could give way to damaging instability
and torrents of refugees across the border in China, and Chinese
leaders have long nudged Pyongyang to draw lessons from their
own route to market economic reform.
Analysts in Seoul said Kim was probably preparing for a
package of reform measures on the economy and Wang's visit could
be seen as a public show of support from China.
"By emphasising the importance of food and civilised living
conditions, I think he wanted to request for China's support,"
said Yang Moo-jin, professor at University of North Korean
Studies in Seoul. He said he expects Kim to unveil his reforms
early next year after the scheduled government changes in China,
South Korea and the United States.
But to date, Pyongyang has resisted any dramatic changes in
its traditional top-down management of the economy.
China has also hosted now moribund s talks among regional
powers to coax North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons
programme. Xinhua reported that Kim said he was committed to
"peace and stability" on the Korean peninsula, but did not
mention those talks.